Kuwait urged to reform workers' rights to end Philippines crisis

Kuwait urged to reform workers' rights to end Philippines crisis
Human Rights Watch has urged Kuwait to give better protections for migrant workers, as a Philippines government discusses with government officials possible reforms to end a diplomatic crisis.
2 min read
22 February, 2018
Filipinos have been told to return home from Kuwait [AFP]

Kuwait has been urged by a leading human rights group to introduce reforms that will better protect foreign workers.

It comes as a diplomatic crisis ensues between Kuwait and the Philippines over the treatment of Filipino nationals in the Gulf state.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Kuwait should afford greater protections for migrant workers as a delegation from the Philippines heads to the Gulf state to discuss the current impasse between the two countries.

The Philippines has banned nationals from working in Kuwait over abuses of Filipino workers in the country.

Although Human Rights Watch condemned the ban it also had harsh words about the treatment of migrant workers in Kuwait.

"Kuwait should confront the outcry over deaths, beatings and rapes of domestic workers by taking immediate steps to reform the kafala system, which traps workers with abusive employers," Middle East women's rights researcher Rothna Begum said in a statement.

Kuwait's kafala system ties workers to their employers, with employees unable to switch jobs without the permission of their employers.

This routinely leads to abuses across the Gulf, where similar systems are also applied.

Manila has said some Filipino workers have been raped, fed scraps and forced to work 21 hour days by their employers in Kuwait.

President Rodrigo Duterte then imposed a ban on nationals moving to Kuwait for work when the body of the Filipino maid was found in an apartment freezer in the Gulf state earlier this month.

HRW believes such measures could be counter-productive.

"The Philippines should work with Kuwait to protect workers rather than ban them from migrating, which is more likely to cause harm than to help," Begum said.

"Both Kuwait and the Philippines have an opportunity to work together to increase protections for domestic workers and fix the gaps that are leaving workers vulnerable to extreme abuse."

A Philippines delegation - headed by Labour Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad - will arrive on Thursday and looks to secure some rights for workers that will allow the ban to be lifted.

Among the demands will be that Filipino workers be allowed to keep their cellphones and passports, which are routinely held by their sponsors.

Kuwait Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah has also invited President Rodrigo Duterte to visit in an attempt to end the rift.

Agencies contributed to this story.