The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, responsible licensed recruitment agencies of overseas Filipino workers, and migrants' rights organizations are backing the Department of Labor and Employment's efforts to better protect the rights and welfare of Filipino household service workers overseas, the labor department said over the weekend.
The government's new policy calls for the doubling of the monthly minimum wage of departing household workers from US$200 to US$400, sets a minimum age of 25 years old for female household workers abroad, and prohibits the collection of placement fees whether prior to deployment or onsite through salary deduction among others.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration will fully implement the policy after March 1, 2007, POEA Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz said in a statement.
Taiwan is already compliant with Manila's new minimum wage requirement, said Reynaldo Gopez, labor representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei. Taiwan's minimum wage is set at NT$15,840 (roughly US$500).
"These reforms are being instituted by DOLE worldwide," Gopez told the Taiwan News.
Labor and Employment Secretary Arturo Brion said it was "high time" that the Philippines institutes those reforms.
"We want to see improvements on the matter of the salaries of our (household workers) abroad, which had gone down to the US$200 level, and if we do not address the situation, this could deteriorate further as reports we have received indicate," Brion said.
"Thus, it is high time that we address the situation, and it is in this light that the new minimum salary of US$400 we have imposed for (household workers) will not weaken global (overseas Filipino worker) deployment, but even set a favorable standard based on the global preference for our OFWs."
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration data showed that about 80 percent of welfare cases were composed of women OFWs working as household helpers overseas. There are around 90,000 Filipinos employed as household workers overseas, less than 10 percent of the total 1.083 million OFWs deployed globally in 2006.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines' Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch, and the Association for Professionalism in Overseas Employment composed of non-fee charging licensed recruitment agencies, issued separate, but unanimous positions endorsing the pursuit of reforms on behalf of those vulnerable migrants, DOLE said.
The ECMI specifically hailed the imposition of a minimum age requirement of 25 years old for overseas household workers; a minimum wage of US$400; the no-placement fee policy; and the training of pre-qualification certificate requirement. Its position mainly reflected the three groups' unanimous endorsement of the government's moves, DOLE said.
The three groups' position papers were read in a news conference at the DOLE presided by Labor Undersecretary for Employment Danilo P. Cruz.
In a position paper read on behalf of Bishop Precioso Cantillas, chairperson of the CBCP-ECMI, by the Reverend Edwin Corros, ECMI Executive Secretary and former parish priest of St. Christopher's Church in Taipei, the CBCP organization commended the Governing Board of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, chaired by Brion, for issuing resolutions reflecting the government's firm determination to pursue reforms that would globally improve the conditions of domestic helpers overseas.
"Having raised the minimum age requirement of (household workers) to 25 years old, our household workers (abroad) would have better psycho-emotional and physical preparation for the work," the statement said. ECMI added that "the minimum salary of US$400 is the most natural thing (in hiring Filipino) skilled workers."
Rene E. Cristobal, president of the Association for Professionalism in Overseas Employment, reflected the group's fullest support, saying that the pertinent resolutions issued by the POEA Governing Board in pursuit of better pay and conditions for overseas household workers "are vital to the welfare, well being, and empowerment of the overseas Filipino household workers." They backed the resolution prohibiting placement fees saying that "the vast majority if not (all) individuals seeking jobs overseas are from the less privileged portion of society," and thus, "placement fees... may not be necessarily moral and just."
The Philippine Migrants Rights Watch, in a paper signed by the group's vice president, Dr. Fabbio Baggio, also supports the new policy set into motion by Brion for the upliftment of the vulnerable overseas household helpers.
The PMRW, in a statement read by the group representative Maria Elisa Pumarada, quoted International Labor Organization Convention No. 181 that "private employment agencies shall not charge, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, any fees or costs to workers."
"Placement fees pose a heavy burden to aspiring migrant workers and they are a primary source of abuse and exploitation to applicants before they leave the country," the PMRW said.
According to Reynaldo Gopez, labor representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, departing Filipino household workers will be required to undertake two types of training programs - skills and language and culture - under the supervision of TESDA.
"First-time migrants will be required to undergo 216 hours of skills training, and a language and culture program prior to deployment," MECO-Taipei Welfare Officer Cynthia Lamban added.
"Rehires, those who are simply renewing their employment contracts, will not be required to take those training programs. However, (their competencies) will still be assessed."
Rehires will be given three opportunities to pass the assessment. If they fail those tests, they will be required to undergo training, she added.
Foreign manpower agencies, including Taiwanese recruitment companies, will also be required to undergo an orientation seminar for them to have a better understanding of Filipino culture.
"For instance, we, Filipinos, believe that we should keep our hands dry after doing some ironing, right? Some foreign employers are not aware of this," Lamban said.
To avoid any misunderstandings in the workplace, Manila will be giving brokers a crash course on Filipino culture, she continued.
MECO will also be discussing with the Taiwan Manpowers Association the need for the establishment of a temporary shelter or dormitory where Pinoys could stay in between transfers, said Gopez.
"Those OFWs are their clients, and brokers have to take very good care of them," he said.
"If it is the broker however who is the subject of the OFW's complaint, the OFW would of course not be staying at the said center. We won't put the worker in the broker's custody."
MECO will be meeting with Taiwan manpower agency representatives before the Lunar New Year to discuss those issues, Gopez said.
For inquiries, call MECO at (02) 2778-7951 to 52.