POEA Memorandum Circular 04 that is supposed to protect OFWs would only enable the government to pass on its responsibilities to employers who would, in turn, pass the additional costs to OFWs. Also it would discourage employers from directly hiring OFWs and thereby, leave OFWs to the mercy of exploitative recruitment agencies, said Migrante International.
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
Vol. VIII, No. 2, Feb. 10-16, 2008
Goody Cadaoas has been working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong for almost two decades now. From 1989 to 2006, she has worked under six full contracts plus two unfinished contracts.
Though she is turning 51 next month, the inconvenience that goes with aging does not hinder her from continuing with her work doing the strenuous chores of a house helper.
And this March, she told Bulatlat she could have had another contract through direct hire if not for the recent memorandum by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) that made her prospective employer back out. Direct hires do not pass through a recruitment agency.
Passed last December and implemented Jan. 15, POEA Memorandum Circular (MC) 04 sets the guidelines in direct hiring of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Under this memorandum, employers opting for direct hiring are required to post a repatriation bond of US$5,000 and a performance bond equivalent to three months’ salary of the worker. The repatriation bond shall guarantee the actual cost of repatriation of remains of directly hired OFW following death from any cause, and actual cost incurred for repatriation from other causes such as violation or non-compliance with the contract among others.
The purpose of MC 04, the POEA website said, is “to provide OFWs hired by ‘other employers allowed by the Secretary’ and without the participation of any licensed agency the same measure of protection and guarantee for compliance by the employer with the employment contract, including the obligation to repatriate the worker upon expiry of the contract, or its termination for causes not attributable to the worker, or in the event of his death. This is in line with the Government’s primary policy of giving utmost protection to OFWs.”
Direct hiring, however, may be allowed as an exception for members of the diplomatic corps, international organizations, or other employers allowed by the labor secretary.
But Migrante International chairperson Connie Bragas-Regalado said that the conditions for performance and repatriation bonds are just ways by which the Arroyo administration passes on its responsibility to assist OFWs in distress.
For Andrew Ociones, Migrante-Saudi Arabia chairperson, the repatriation bond is just “another ploy to reinforce the OWWA Omnibus Policies which virtually erased government’s (and OWWA’s) responsibility.”
“First, they cleared OWWA and the government of any responsibility by way of the Omnibus OWWA Policies and transferred it to the recruitment agency,” Ociones recalled. “In turn, the Memorandum would effectively clear the recruitment agency of any responsibility in the repatriation of remains of OFWs who died and of OFWs in distress because the POEA is passing it to employers.”
“But the employers would simply deduct the bond from the salary of the worker. So who’s going to take responsibility for the OFWs in distress now?” Ociones argued.
Worse, Bragas-Regalado said that under the guise of passing accountability to the employers, the burden will actually fall onto the OFWs.
“The ‘direct hiring’ guidelines would essentially force OFWs to submit to the often very exploitative process of recruitment agencies,” she said, noting that recruitment agencies are notorious for pushing OFWs into conditions of debt-bondage by requiring very high placement fees, and modern-day slavery by disregarding migrants’ rights and welfare.
Also OFWs like Cadaoas are saddened by the fact that their relatively advanced age would be a hindrance if they go through a recruitment agency. She said that many agencies would not accept applicants her age and prefer younger ones. While in direct hiring, she said, some employers prefer older and experienced helpers so they could be spared from teaching them house chores. She added that in her previous employments, she did not spend much for processing her papers and her employers even refunded her expenses.