On January 2, the Philippines ordered an immediate ban on the deployment of domestic workers to Kuwait following the murder of a 26-year-old domestic worker, Jeanelyn Padernal Villavende. Villavende was beaten to death by her employer’s wife.
The ban excludes experienced workers and returning domestic workers with existing contracts, as well as workers who obtained an overseas employment certificate before the start of the ban. The Philippines’ Labour Secretary warned, however, that the Philippines might impose a total ban if justice is not reached in the murder case.
According to Al-Anba, initial investigations revealed that the Kuwaiti employer’s wife was previously involved in similar incidents and had a history of assaulting domestic workers. Her husband, a detective and military official, used his influence to drop charges against his wife. Both are now in jail awaiting prosecution.
As early as September 2019, Villavende complained to her recruitment agency in the Philippines about both the physical abuse and her unfair salary. The agency allegedly ignored her repeated requests for repatriation. The Philippines is now investigating the agency for failing to follow procedure and take the necessary steps to protect Villavende.
The Chairman of Kuwait Union for Domestic Labour Recruitment Offices, Khaled Al-Dakhnan, stated that the union is negotiating with Filipino officials to remove the ban. Al-Dakhan told Al-Anba that “in the case of halting the deployment of domestic workers from the Philippines, the recruitment sector will witness many problems, especially in light of the scarcity of recruitment countries and dependence on Filipino workers at the present time.”
He reaffirmed that the “incident is an individual case [and the] Kuwaiti justice system will succeed in taking fair measures against the perpetrators.” Similarly, Kuwait’s Finance Minister and Acting State Minister for Economic Affairs Maryam Al-Aqeel, said that she was confident of the Kuwaiti justice system and that Kuwait rejects any breach of migrant labour rights, adding that:
“Incidents may occur from time to time, but these are few in comparison to the size of the migrant labour employed in the country,” and cautioned that “some might use these incidents to exacerbate the situation or attempt to drive a wedge between Kuwait and any labour-exporting nation.”
However, repeated reports of extreme abuse and deaths of domestic workers indicate that these are not ‘one-off’ incidents; the murders of Joanna Demeflis and Constancia Dayag similarly triggered deployment bans and re-negotiation of the bilateral domestic labour agreement.
Notably, negotiations on the domestic workers’ standard contract came to a halt in November 2019 after Kuwait rejected a clause that allows domestic workers to sue their Kuwaiti sponsors from any part of the world. Officials are set to meet again this month in Manila to discuss the contract.
Kuwaiti authorities have long claimed that abuses against migrant workers - be it physical abuse or forced labour - are isolated incidents. This failure to acknowledge the structural vulnerabilities of the country’s labour migration system, the live-in employment model, as well as poor enforcement of the domestic workers’ law, continues to expose the country’s 700,000 migrant domestic workers to violence. Demeflis, Dayag, and Villavende are the country’s latest victims, and unless Kuwait meaningfully reforms, they will not be the last.
Sandigan, a domestic workers association in Kuwait, released the following statement to MR:
"The death of another Filipina Domestic Worker is heartbreaking not only to the family of the victims but to of us who is fighting against inhuman and unjust treatment to migrant worker especially to the domestic worker sector. This recent death is a sign that barbarism and inhuman behaviour still exist in our society. This is a challenge to all of us to strongly campaign and uniting by calling the attention of lawmakers, government offices and stakeholders in condemning violence and let justice be served to the violator."