News Release

President Duterte calls for abolition of Kafala system


President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Monday called for the abolition of the Kafala system in the Middle East, which he said resulted in violation of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrant workers.

Speaking during his participation to the Migrant Labor Governance and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, President Duterte said the Philippines recognizes the sovereign right of each state to adopt its own migration policy stressing, however, that universal liberties and moral standards must be observed at all times.

“This is why the Philippine government strongly calls for the complete abolition of the Kafala system – sooner rather than later,” he said.

“The Kafala system is unjust and exploitative. It places thousands of migrant workers, particularly household workers, in the most vulnerable situation – unseen, unheard, and unable to defend their dignity as a human being.”

The Kafala system has resulted in grave abuses – from inhumane working conditions to non-payment of wages; from restriction of movements to denial of healthcare; and from sexual exploitation to outright murder, according to the President.

Exacerbating the situation, he said the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed migrant workers, especially those under the Kafala system, to an even more precarious position.

As the world went into lockdowns, the President said migrant workers were driven into destitution without source of income, social safety nets, and money to send back home.

Structural inequalities pushing migrant workers to this appalling situation must be addressed, he said, noting the pandemic responses must be inclusive and non-discriminatory.

Kafala is an employment framework in the Gulf States that requires sponsorship from a national for migrant workers to be employed and reside in the country. Under the system, the sponsor, either an individual or a company, possesses substantial control over the worker.

President Duterte welcomed the reform initiatives of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain aimed at improving the labor conditions of migrant workers.

He expressed optimism over Saudi Arabia’s Labor Reform Initiative, which he said will significantly improve the working conditions of migrant workers in the Kingdom, including 800,000 Filipinos.

“Certainly, the Philippine government assumes its part of the responsibility in ensuring that our people live in safety and dignity, wherever they may be,” he said.

“As I have said before, the Filipino is not a slave to anyone, anywhere. I dream of the day when working abroad becomes a choice and not a need for my countrymen.”

The Philippine government remains committed to its long-term vision of providing a stable, comfortable, and secure life for all Filipinos in their own land, he added.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) is a United Nations-backed intergovernmentally negotiated agreement covering all dimensions of international migration.

It was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2018. PND