Philippines lifts ban on sending workers to Saudi Arabia

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines lifted a ban on the deployment of workers, including maids and construction workers, to Saudi Arabia on Monday after steps were taken to reduce frequent abuses, officials said.

Labor officials stopped sending workers to the oil-rich kingdom a year ago due to the abuses, including the non-payment of wages to thousands of Filipino construction workers, and the coronavirus threat.

Susan Ople, who heads the country’s newly established Department of Migrant Workers, said months of negotiations with Saudi Arabian officials have led to an agreement on additional safeguards, including the adoption of a standard employment contract that provides insurance coverage for workers for non-payment of salaries and allows workers to change employers in the case of abuse.

“Under a new employment contract that ensures greater workers’ protection, our workers would now be able to find gainful employment in one of the world’s biggest labor markets,” Ople said in a statement.

More than 189,000 Filipino workers were deployed to Saudi Arabia in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Other top destinations of Filipino workers include the United States, Singapore, Japan, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

A more transparent and fair arrangement for settling disputes between workers and employers will be adopted in Saudi Arabia and human trafficking complaints will be handled directly by Saudi officials who focus on the problem for a better response, Filipino officials said.

Ople said Saudi Arabian officials will visit the Philippines this month for a joint review of salaries of Filipino workers and resume discussions on complaints over the unpaid salaries of thousands of Filipino construction workers dating back to 2016.

About a tenth of the Philippines’ 109 million people work and live overseas and the large amounts of money they send home have helped keep the country’s consumption-driven economy afloat for decades. Last year, a record $31 billion was sent home, bolstering the recovery of the Philippine economy, which slumped in its worst post-World War II recession in 2020 due to prolonged coronavirus lockdowns.

The downside of the largely poverty-driven diaspora has been continuing reports of abuses and exploitation, especially of maids, that have sometimes led to serious injuries or deaths and sparked uproars in the Philippines.

Philippine officials are under increasing pressure to do more to monitor the safety of Filipino workers worldwide. There have also been calls for the government to boost employment and living standards at home, where millions live in poverty, so that fewer people need to abandon their families and find work abroad.

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