By Jerome Aning
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: February 13, 2008

MANILA, Philippines — Despite the amendments announced by the labor department, the new direct hiring guidelines for overseas Filipino workers should still be rejected, OFW groups said Wednesday.

This is because the main beneficiary of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s Memorandum Circular 04 was the government and not the OFW sector, said the Center for Migrant Advocacy.

The MC-04 benefits the government by shifting the burden of attending to OFWs in distress to the private recruiting agencies or employers, “subject to various payments borne by the OFWs in the migration process,” said CMA executive director Ellene Sana in a letter to Labor Secretary Arturo Brion.

MC-04, which took effect on January 15, requires foreign employers to secure a performance bond equivalent to three months’ salary (about $3,000) and a $5,000 repatriation bond, for each OFW that they hire directly.

In a separate statement, the Middle East chapters of the Migrante International said the MC-04 was no guarantee that the rights and welfare of migrant workers would be protected.

“The performance bond and repatriation bond cannot deter or stop an abusive foreign employer, especially here in the Middle East, [from maltreating] his or her Filipino worker,” said Migrante-Kuwait secretary general Gil Lebria.

A bond would not prevent an employer from not paying the worker’s salary as stipulated in the employment contract or sexually abusing his Filipino domestic helper, he said.

If anything, the employer could simply pass on the cost of the bond to the employee by deducting it from the worker’s salary, he said.

On Tuesday, Brion announced that foreign employers whose governments require that they guarantee “protective mechanisms” for OFWs would be exempted from paying the required bonds specified by MC-04.

In her letter, Sana said the MC-04 was like “a mechanism to ensure that someone else, apart from government, becomes responsible for an OFW in distress.”

“This would have been understandable and perhaps acceptable if and only if labor migration for many of our fellow countrymen overseas is indeed out of choice and not out of necessity, the latter because there are no viable decent jobs back home, in our country,” she said.

Lebria said the real intent of MC-04 was clear: the Arroyo government wanting to leave the responsibility of taking care of the repatriation of distressed and stranded OFWs to the mercy of foreign employers by the requirement of posting a bond.

The CMA said the OFWs and migrant groups were not consulted about the MC-04, resulting in “violent reactions and confusions” when it was announced.

Sana said the lack of consultation was contrary to the Migrant Workers Act of 1995, or RA 8042, which pledges government cooperation with non-government organizations in protecting OFWs and promoting their welfare.

“OFWs are not merely docile subjects and recipients of government policies and programs. Part of their empowerment, of being able to stand up for their rights and be protected is to be visible, counted, consulted and be part of the governance structures,” Sana said.

She added that POEA circular also established a “tedious” administrative verification process that would be burdensome to both the OFWs and to labor offices overseas and other government agencies tasked to implement it.

Another question raised by the CMA related to the POEA statement that “rehires,” or those returning to the same employer, would not be covered by the MC-04 provided that the employer was represented by a licensed recruitment agency.

The CMA said it was common knowledge that most rehires, in succeeding contracts, whether with new or old employers, no longer go through recruitment agencies.

POEA suspends memo on employers’ $5,000 repatriation bond

By Veronica Uy

Posted date: February 14, 2008

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has suspended a circular requiring employers to pay a $5,000 repatriation bond and direct-hire Filipino workers to post a performance bond equal to three months’ pay. Memorandum Circular (MC) 04, series of 2007, was suspended after a directive from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, POEA Administrator Rosalinda Baldoz said.In a phone interview, Baldoz told the suspension will remain in effect pending discussions by the POEA governing board on Monday.The suspension means direct-hires will be processed under POEA rules in effect before MC 04 was issued.MC 04 received a lot of flak from overseas Filipino workers’ (OFWs) organizations and advocacy groups when it took effect January 16 this year.The OFWs complained the additional requirements would either be passed on to them by their employers or make them unattractive to employers abroad.But Labor Secretary Arturo Brion, who heads the POEA governing body, said the additional requirements were meant to protect the workers.Baldoz said discussions will center principally on professionals who will be adversely affected by the order.“We will review the order to see if there is a need for a more relaxed policy pertaining to professionals and countries with a long track record of workers’ protection,” she said.The POEA chief foresees a very lively discussion on Monday, particularly on the definition of professionals.The new order would “relax” the rules for direct-hire “professionals, those to be employed by reputable companies already providing adequate protection, and similarly situated employers.”Earlier, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) backpedaled on the controversial order and said it would consider exempting countries with verified protective mechanisms.Some two weeks ago, Brion said of the 35 countries with a high concentration of OFWs, the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs) in Italy, Geneva, and Hong Kong have so far confirmed that employers have been complying with the requirements guaranteeing repatriation assistance and payment of salaries.