A Filipino worker on Indonesia’s death row, hundreds of workers still trap by armed conflict in Yemen, Libya and Syria, medical personnel at risk of infection by the dreaded MERS-CoV virus in Saudi Arabia, abductions of Filipino workers in Libya, an OFW charged with sedition in Singapore, and thousands of OFWs falling victim to human trafficking and illegal recruitment syndicates as well as investment scam artists – the list of OFWs in distress seems to be growing longer by the week, if not the day.
In light of such developments, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Center (Ople Center) welcomed a Senate plan to review the country’s migration policies, notably on labor laws and regulations designed to protect the rights and promote welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Susan Ople, president of Ople Center and a former labor undersecretary, described as “timely and urgent” the plan of Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, as the designated chair of the Senate labor committee, to review the government’s migration policies, especially the 1995 Migrant and Overseas Workers’ Act as amended by RA 10022.
“It has been forty years since the Philippine overseas labor program was initiated. The world has vastly changed since then, and our workers overseas face multiple risks due to political, economic, and security issues as well as climate and technology changes beyond their control. Are our laws, policies and bureaucratic structures for overseas employment still relevant and effective today as they were forty years ago? It would take several committee hearings to arrive at the right answer,” Ople said.
Angara who chairs the Senate committee on labor, employment and human resources development said he wants to re-examine the government’s migration policies given the increasing population of Filipinos overseas.
Senate Resolution No. 1242 , authored by Angara, took note of official data indicating the number of OFWs who are on death row, victims of human trafficking and illegal recruitment, as well as those who have filed money claims with the National Labor Relations Commission for non-wages and other contract violations.
Angara wrote: “Twenty years after the death of Flor Contemplacion, the resulting public outcry for more protection on the welfare of OFWs seems to be the same public outcry up to this moment because of the following troublesome reports:
“1. OFWs facing death penalty cases has reached a total of 88 as of March 10, 2015 from a previous total of 80 in 2013, 93 in 2012 and 131 in 2011 (DFA data) the latest casualty is the case of an OFW in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia whose death even caught our government by surprise;”
“2. Victims of human trafficking totaled 1,457 in 2011, 1,029 in 2012, and 1,135 in 2013 (DFAdata);”
“3. OFWs, both land-based and sea-based are targeted and are being kidnapped by rebel and other lawless groups, most recent were the four Filipino nationals abducted in the oil fields of Libya;”
“4. From 2009-2013, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration or OWWA had handled an average of more than 50,000 cases on-site, annually;”
“5. An average of 1,600 illegal recruitment cases were also handled by POEA from 2007-2011 indicating that each year, thousands of hopeful Filipinos are victimized by illegal recruiters; and,”
“6. The overseas employment cases received by the National Labor Relations Commission or NLRC has been increasing from 5,834 in 2011, 6,121 in 2012 to 6,280 in 2013.”
The Ople Center said that the review is also necessary to map out the government’s plan on how to improve the protection of overseas Filipino workers once the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia implements its mega-recruitment policy. Under the mega-recruitment policy, visa sponsorships of foreign workers will be directly issued to mega-recruitment consortiums accredited by the Saudi government instead of the current set-up of having Saudi employers apply for the sponsorship of their workers.
“We anticipate a massive recruitment effort on the part of these elite mega recruitment consortiums in Saudi Arabia since they would be allowed to put up regional branches all over the Kingdom. Foreign domestic workers will also be housed in agency-owned accommodations unless or until the Saudi employers take them in under a live-in arrangement. Mega-recruitment agencies can also function as labor suppliers, and it would be a challenge for our own embassy and consulate in Saudi Arabia to keep track of our workers under this kind of arragement considering their lack of manpower and resources,” the Ople Center pointed out.
The Ople Center also pointed out the need for the broad review to include the implications of age discrimination in the workplace on returning OFWs. “The reason why they keep on leaving is because of age discrimination. No matter how skilled they are, regardless of their work ethic, many OFWs find themselves unable to land a job interview simply because they are above thirty years old.”
Age discrimination, the Ople Center said, has become a barrier to economic inclusion, and thus a push factor for migration.