Weak options to protect overseas Filipino workers
Government authorities have played down the negative effect of the ban on the deployment of Filipino workers in 41 countries, saying the impact “is not going to be very big,” as these countries did not receive too many OFWs.
The Department of Labor and Employment announced on Wednesday that it had issued the ban because these blacklisted countries failed to sign international conventions protecting foreign workers from abuse. Specifically, the DOLE board resolution posted on its website said none of these countries had signed agreements with the Philippines “on the protection of the rights of overseas Filipino workers.”
The ban is to take effect within the month. The administration made a big spin of the decision amid mounting pressure to do more to protect more than 9 million Filipinos working abroad. OFW remittances account for 13.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and the overseas workers comprise 11 percent of the total Philippine population of 94 million, making the Philippines one of the world’s largest labor exporters.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said worker deployments to 125 other countries would continue after Philippine embassies had verified they have laws protecting foreign workers. The countries affected by the ban include Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Cuba, North Korea, Haiti, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Serbia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Some of these countries are strife-torn countries like Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan and Pakistan.
Carlos Cao Jr., head of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, said the countries affected by the ban were not important destinations of OFWs. Most of the countries on the list do not actually hire many Filipinos workers. “These are smaller countries with small markets,” said Cao. The ban does not affect Filipinos who are already there, so they would not have to come home until their contracts expire. Critics of new directives of the government say the ban could actually have the opposite effect—by driving Filipinos to work illegally, with even fewer safeguards than they had before.
The DOLE issued resolutions on deployment based on the requirements of Republic Act 10022, the amended Migrant Workers and Overseas Act of 1995. Why the DOLE implemented the requirements only now is not clear. In May this year, the POEA listed a total of 125 countries where OFWs can be continuously deployed. Another resolution, No. 7, specified a list of 41 countries where OFWs cannot be deployed for non-compliance with the guarantees required by RA 10022. The act requires Philippine diplomatic posts to review all host countries whether they have existing laws that protect migrant workers, a move, according to DOLE, designed “to prevent the rampant sexual and physical abuses being committed against Filipino migrant workers.”
Baldoz said a host country may be certified as compliant with the law if its government has any of the following requirements that protect the rights of Filipino workers:
1. It has labor and social laws protecting the rights of migrant workers.
2. It is a signatory to declarations or resolutions relating to the protection of migrant workers.
3. It has concluded a bilateral agreement with the government on the protection of rights of Filipino workers.
Every Filipino government since the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos has been extremely sensitive to the issue of protecting Filipino overseas workers from abuse by their employers and injustice after the execution of the Filipino maid (Flor Contemplacion) in Singapore for the killing of her Singaporean employer.
The Ramos administration suffered a strong public backlash over the failure of its efforts to obtain a stay of the execution from the Singapore government. Since then, the protection of Filipino workers has been a highly sensitive and emotional political issue in the Philippines in which no president, including the incumbent president, would want to be perceived as negligent of the welfare of OFWs. This issue is complicated by the fact that OFWs have remitted more than $17 billion as of the latest data in 2009, making the remittances one of the main pillars of the Philippine economy.
OFWs have been hailed as the real heroes of the economy, and it is not a myth that if their remittances drastically dwindle, the economy would collapse. President Aquino would not want to be in a position where the economy is undermined by a reduced flow of OFW remittances.
The economy under his management for the past 12 months faltered, with the GDP falling to around 5 percent, from a record high of 7 percent two years ago. Unemployment and underemployment have been estimated at 30 percent—which means that the economy is not creating enough jobs to catch up with the fast growth of the young labor force. This further means that the Filipino exodus in search of jobs overseas is fueled by the shortage of jobs locally and the economic recession, in which many of the rich Western economies are experiencing the unacceptable unemployment rate of more than 10 percent. The job closures are also sending numbers of unemployed Filipinos overseas back home.
Fortunately for the Aquino administration, the 41 countries blacklisted in its ban are inconsequential as job destinations for Filipinos. The problem facing the administration is that the above-cited conditions weaken its leverage to obtain compliance with the requirements of Philippine laws on the deployment of Filipino workers by 125 host countries to guarantee them from abuse.
Without doubt, most Filipinos would be happy to see our migrant workers humanely treated. Unfortunately, our clout to put pressure on their hosts is limited.
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