President Rodrigo Duterte may expand the ban on Filipinos working in other countries. Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Presidential Communications Operations Office, Mikael Lindmark

President Rodrigo Duterte has warned that the ban on Filipinos working in Kuwait may expand to other countries if Filipinos were being seriously abused elsewhere.

Duterte said on Thursday the deployment ban to Kuwait would remain in place and it was possible the ban would be expanded to other countries where Filipinos suffer abuse, ABC News reported.

Duterte said the government was investigating countries where Filipino workers suffer abuse from their employers, the Gulf Times reported.

“We are doing an audit now to find out the places where we deploy Filipinos and our countrymen suffer brutal treatment and human degradation,” Duterte said.

But Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Wednesday that the ban was likely to do more harm than good for migrant workers. It said workers who are desperate to leave would continue to use unsafe channels that leave them exposed to abuse and trafficking.

HRW called on the Kuwaiti and Philippine government to agree on key reforms that will protect migrant workers.

“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,” HRW said.

The kafala, or sponsorship, system ties foreign maids’ visas to their employers and prevents workers from leaving or changing jobs without their employers’ consent.

HRW said Kuwait passed a law on domestic workers in 2015 that extended labor protections for the first time, including the right to a rest day each week, a 12-hour working day with rest periods, annual paid leave, and overtime compensation. And the following year, Kuwait became the first nation in the Gulf to pass a minimum monthly wage of 60KD (US$200) for domestic workers.

But the rights group says the law is weaker than Kuwait’s main labor law and does not conform to the International Labour Organization Domestic Workers Convention. It fails “to provide for workplace inspections in the home, which can be done with due regard to privacy”.

A team of Philippine officials flew to Kuwait on Thursday, allegedly to seek changes to the kafala system.

About 10 million Filipinos work abroad – two million of them in the Middle East – and the income they send home accounts for about 10% of gross domestic product. Last year they sent a record $28 billion back to their homeland.

Duterte spoke after attending the wake of Joanna Demafelis, a maid believed to have been murdered in Kuwait, in the central Philippine town of Sara. The president has said he wants criminal charges filed against the killers of Demafelis, who is believed to have been killed by her employers. They are being hunted by authorities in Kuwait and Interpol.

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