Locsin hails PH-BH-KSA cooperation on migrant protection

May 21, 2022 People's Tonight 389 views

NEW YORK CITY – The Philippines has lauded the successful labor reforms in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia that protect Filipinos and encouraged other countries to do the same for the rest of the migrant workers around the world.

At a forum on labor mobility and human rights organized by the governments of the Philippines, Kingdom of Bahrain, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of the International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters on May 19, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. acknowledged the initiatives of the two Middle Eastern states that address abusive labor practices experienced by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“These developments were once aspirations; they are now a reality. As a country of origin and a GCM (Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration) Champion, the Philippines commends these progressive reforms that raise the standards of protection of migrants to levels they deserve,” Locsin said during his opening remarks in the forum.

“Let these initiatives be a beacon for other countries to join in the common goal and responsibility of protecting migrants,” he added.

The Philippines partnered with Bahrain in 2018 to provide flexible pathways for workers’ regular migration, leading to the issuance of flexible visas that regularized more than a thousand undocumented Filipinos.

The Philippine government invested at least US$1.5 million to purchase flexi-visas for over a thousand Filipino migrant workers.

“This served as a ray of hope for many undocumented Filipinos as they were provided a pathway to be regularized by sponsoring themselves and working on a freelance basis. The flexi-visas also come with health insurance and a return ticket to those who wish to return home,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Y. Arriola said.

She said that the Philippines strongly advocated for reforming the Kafala sponsorship system in the Middle East that restricts the freedom and mobility of OFWs.

“It is of utmost importance to the Philippine government to push for migration policy innovations, with the aim of enhancing pathways for regularization, facilitating fair and ethical recruitment, and ensuring decent work for migrant workers,” Arriola said.

The DFA officials also thanked the Bahraini government for the strengthened collaboration to combat trafficking.

According to Arriola, Bahrain established specialized offices to prevent and fight trafficking in persons, noting that a case involving two Filipino survivors led to the landmark conviction of traffickers by a Bahraini court in April 2020.

“Bahrain had our backs in the fight for the GCM. For we hoped to convince as much by concrete examples of ongoing arrangements, as by argument practical and moral,” Locsin said.

The DFA chief also welcomed Saudi Arabia’s Labor Reform Initiative that allows skilled migrant workers to travel, transfer, or leave their work without their employers’ consent.

“It complements other reforms, such as the wage protection system, digital documentation of work contracts, and labor education and awareness initiatives. The Philippines awaits the extension of this reform to household service workers and those in elementary occupations,” he said.

Arriola said the Philippines continues to discuss with Saudi Arabia issues on the circumvention of the reforms by unscrupulous employers and the need to improve digital literacy among migrant workers.

“All of these developments would not have been possible without the strong relations and collaborative efforts between the Philippines, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. While there is still a long road to realize and wholly implement the GCM, we wish to continue maintaining this momentum with our staunch partners,” she said.

She added that the Philippines has never seen this level of international cooperation before concerning upholding the rights and welfare of migrants.

“This is not just a mere gesture of camaraderie in recognition of migrants’ rights this is the result of our strong advocacies and decades-long fight for migrant protection, a driving force that can spark and sustain movements bigger than we ever imagined for ourselves,” Arriola said.

Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations, Amb. Enrique A. Manalo, who moderated the forum, said the event aims to “highlight the strong partnership between the three co-organizing countries and show how the objectives of the GCM on fair and ethical recruitment and decent work, on availability of pathways for regular migration and on international cooperation and global partnerships influenced labor migration governance and reforms.”

The GCM is a comprehensive inter-governmentally negotiated agreement to improve the governance of migration.

The IMRF is the primary intergovernmental global platform to discuss and share progress on the implementation of all aspects of the GCM with the participation of all relevant stakeholders.