A Philippine Catholic bishop expressed hope that household service workers would be covered in the proposed easing of restrictions on foreign workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, vice chairman of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, said the labor reform should also benefit Filipino domestic workers.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has eased the foreign worker sponsorship system, known as kafala, giving employers control over about 10 million migrant workers from several countries.
The reforms, which will take effect in March 2021, allow private sector workers to change jobs and leave the country without an employer’s consent.
“We pray and hope that our domestic workers would be included with the easing of the kafala,” said Bishop Santos.
“Once they will be covered, it will be a welcome relief and a valuable protection for our domestic workers,” he said.
The prelate said the kafala system makes migrant workers “open to and prone to maltreatment and exploitation.”
“With the kafala, they are unwillingly tied up to their employers as if ‘owned’ by them. Their movements are curtailed, and (they) cannot leave the country,” said Bishop Santos.
“We encourage our government officials to appeal (to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) that our domestic workers should be included with the easing of the kafala,” he added.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has announced that the move will allow foreign workers the right to change jobs by transferring their sponsorship from one employer to another, leave and re-enter the country and secure final exit visas without the consent of their employer.
Saudi Arabia is one of the countries in the Middle East with the biggest number of Filipino migrant workers.
An estimated 865,121 Filipino migrant workers are deployed in the Kingdom as of December 2019, about 17 percent of whom work as household service workers.