Philippines lifts ban on working in Saudi Arabia
A ban on employment in Saudi Arabia was in place for a year because of abuses against foreign workers. Under a new deal, steps will be taken to fight human trafficking. Remittances by Overseas Filipino Workers represent 9 per cent of the country’s GDP.
Manila (AsiaNews) – The Philippines has lifted an employment ban in Saudi Arabia after the two countries “reached an agreement to resume the deployment of Filipino workers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia starting November 7th, 2022," this according to a joint press release on Tuesday.
The ban was in place for about a year after the Philippines stopped processing applications for overseas employment due to abuses experienced by Filipinos in Gulf states.
The announcement came from Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople, who recently visited Riyadh to negotiate better working conditions and wages for her compatriots.
According to 2019 data, Saudi Arabia is the favourite destination for Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). However, as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the number of Filipinos in the kingdom dropped from a million to just over 470,000 in 2020.
In the first year of the pandemic, 400,000 Filipinos from all over the world were repatriated and departures dropped by 60 per cent.
Remittances from Saudi Arabia in 2020 reached US$ 1.8 billion out of a total of US$ 29.9 billion, a figure that rose to US$ 31.4 billion in 2021.
After China and India, the Philippines is the largest recipient of remittances in Asia, representing 9 per cent of its GDP.
Most workers are employed in the construction industry or, in the case of women, as nurses and domestic workers.
The Philippines stopped issuing visas to Saudi Arabia in November 2021 after some construction companies failed to pay millions of dollars in wages to some 9,000 Filipino workers.
Foreigners have been victims of large-scale abuses against in the Gulf monarchies. Both Philippine and international media have often relayed stories of mistreatment, sexual abuse, unpaid wages, and even modern forms of slavery.
In 2015, Edelyn Astudillo, a Philippine domestic worker and mother of three, went missing; despite years of investigation, her family know nothing about her fate.
Such a situation stems in Saudi Arabia stems from the "kafala", a system under which workers’ legal status is in the hands of their employers, who can keep employees’ passports and control all their movements.
The new agreement between Manila and Riyadh includes the creation of a working group to monitor the implementation of reforms, the drafting a blacklist and a whitelist of recruitment agencies and employers based on criteria agreed by both countries, and a memorandum of understanding to fight human trafficking.
For Secretary Ople, the recruitment and payment processes should be automated, while employment contracts could be reduced to one year with a 15-day vacation leave.
She returned home yesterday along with a hundred Philippine workers who were staying in shelters because of employment-related issues.