My sister-in-law, Marjorie, 44, is an OFW. Overseas Filipino Worker. She has worked in Kuwait as a domestic worker for a year. Marjorie has labored for three different employers since her arrival. Fortunately she has a good employment agency that allowed her to find a different family to work for when conditions became too difficult with a particular employer. The third family she is currently assigned to also has another Filipina employed by them so Marjorie has a co-worker for the first time since coming to Kuwait.
The present clan pays her slightly more than the 200 US Dollars she was previously earning. They also allow the use of a cell phone, something the other two employers did not permit. Marjorie was able to smuggle her SIM card from the Philippines since bringing a mobile phone was strictly prohibited when she entered the country. She uses the cell phone of her co-worker (which was purchased by the current employer) and just switches the SIM card when she sends a text to the Philippines. She has a year left on her contract with the agency.
We care for Marjorie's two children, our niece Shaina, age 13, and nephew Sharwen, age 11. Their father left them over a decade ago. Because of money my sister-in-law had to borrow from other relatives to pay for her employment agency fees, she is only able to send P1500 (34.47 US Dollars) a month for the support of her kids. Shina has needed medical treatment recently for an ear infection. Fortunately our sister-in-law Alida was able to enroll her in a program which covers her physician fees, but we're paying for her necessary medication. We manage. Have to take care of family.
A recent Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report from the State Department of the United States website shows that Kuwait is listed as a Tier 3 country. Tier 3 countries do not appear to be trying to reach the minimum standard – and they could face limited U.S. sanctions. The website further states that "Kuwait is a destination country for men and women who are subjected to forced labor and to a lesser degree forced prostitution. Men and women migrate from India, Egypt, Bangladesh, Syria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, Iran, Jordan, Ethiopia, and Iraq to work in Kuwait, most of them in the domestic service, construction, and sanitation sectors.
Although most of these migrants enter Kuwait voluntarily, upon arrival some are subjected to conditions of forced labor by their sponsors and labor agents, including nonpayment of wages (Marjorie was not paid for any wages this past last November by employer #2), long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and restrictions on movement, such as the withholding of passports or confinement to the workplace.
Although Kuwait has a standard contract for domestic workers delineating their rights, many workers report work conditions that are substantially different from those described in the contract; some workers never see the contract at all. (This is quite common. My wife worked as an OFW for two years in Taiwan and was not given one day off in those two years. A direct violation of her contract. If she would have complained another Filipina would have just taken her place.)
Many of the migrant workers arriving for work in Kuwait have paid exorbitant fees to recruiters in their home countries (such as is the case with Marjorie as noted before, she can only send home P1500 a month due to the high fees imposed by her agency) or are coerced into paying recruitment fees in Kuwait that, by Kuwaiti law, should be paid for by the employer – a practice that makes workers highly vulnerable to forced labor once in Kuwait.
Due to provisions of Kuwait’s sponsorship law that restrict workers’ movements and penalize workers for running away from abusive workplaces, domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to forced labor inside private homes (my sister-in-law works in a private home.) In addition, media sources report that runaway domestic workers fall prey to forced prostitution by agents who exploit their illegal status.
The government also did not make significant progress in fulfilling other commitments made since 2007, such as enacting the draft domestic workers’ bill to provide domestic workers with the same rights as other workers or establishing a large-capacity permanent shelter for victims of trafficking. The government similarly made only minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. For these reasons, Kuwait is placed on Tier 3 for a fifth consecutive year."
In the same Trafficking in Persons report, the US State Department took the Philippines out of its Tier 3 category and placed it on Tier 2. Tier 2 means that these countries do not fully meet the standards in the anti-human trafficking campaign but are making efforts to do so and thus qualify for assistance from the US.
Since Kuwait remains as a Tier 3 country on the TIP report, Marjorie remains at risk working in Kuwait although the working conditions at her present employer are better than the previous two families she worked for. She is able to send occasional text messages home and has not reported any type of abuse with the current employer.
Sadly, there are not many employment available for my sister-in-law and at the age of 44 she is considered too old by many companies in the Philippines. Many businesses here discriminate against "older" workers. Forty-four is considered old.
Unfortunately working as an OFW in countries such as Kuwait is the best hope of employment that Marjorie and millions of others in the Philippines have. Years spent away from your loved ones. Such a pattern will continue to exist unless the government can establish some viable programs that can offer gainful employment for its citizens. Don't look for that any time soon.