Moreover, the Migrante leader criticized the performance and repatriation bonds because OFWs are already required to pay a US$25 membership fee to the OWWA, and a US$100 processing fee to the POEA. Migrante also said that there supposedly exists a P100 million ($2,457,002 at an exchange rate of $1=P40.70) Emergency Repatriation Fund.
“Yet again, the Arroyo government peddles lies to OFWs by trying to pass the guidelines as mechanisms for our protection. We know too well how past migrant policies passed by the Arroyo administration actually worked to intensify our abuse and hardship – while at the same time squeezing more funds out of our own pockets,” she said.
Based on experience
Although implemented on Jan. 15, the Philippine Consulate in Milan said the guidelines do not apply to the general condition of Filipinos in Europe while the Philippine Embassy in Singapore announced the suspension of the implementation of the guidelines.
Filipino migrant groups in other countries also called on other Philippine posts not to implement the MC 04 in their host countries for various reasons.
In Taiwan, Migrante-Taiwan vice chair Gi Estrada said that OFWs there are already paying P60,000 to P120,000 ($1,474 to $2,948) in placement fees and NT$60,000 (P76,518 or $1,875) in brokers fees during their first three years of stay. This is equivalent, she said, to P3,792 to P5459 ($93 to $ 134) deduction from their salary for three years.
She added that the POEA memorandum would contradict a new policy issued by Taiwan’s Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) that gives returning caregivers the right to apply for direct hiring in Taiwan. Estrada said that this policy was the result of the lobbying efforts of migrant workers and rights advocates for more than a decade.
Estrada also said that OFWs working in Taiwan are exempted from its Balik-Manggagawa program, where they are made to pay the same placement fee even if they are returning to the same employer.
In Saudi Arabia, Migrante-Saudi Arabia’s Rights and Welfare Committee records showed that employers in Saudi Arabia have been charging various expenses to OFWs even without this memorandum. The employers of Rahima Aiko and Zorayda Dukay, both domestic helpers now in the custody of the Jeddah Consulate’s Welfare Center, refused to pay their salaries for seven months and three months, respectively and are allegedly charging them SR 9,000 ($2,400) each for visa and recruitment expenses. Syrel Morada, on the other hand, was locked in the toilet for three days starting New Years Eve and was fed only once a day for months but the employer, Migrante reported, wanted her to pay SR 10,000 ($2,666) for visa and recruitment expenses after she sought refuge at the Welfare Center.
“With the Memorandum in place, Brion would only legalize what employers in Saudi Arabia has been doing all along¾charging their workers with expenses that employers should legally shoulder including iqama or work-permits, electricity and other utilities, accommodation, even medical insurance coverage,” said Migrante-Jeddah chair Bob Fajarito.
In Hong Kong, Migrante said that the right of OFWs to apply for direct hiring has already been won through an intense and laborious campaign.
In 1994, the POEA issued MC No. 41 that made passing through recruitment agencies mandatory for OFWs. With the widespread outrage it generated from OFWs in Hong Kong, the government revoked MC-41 through Department Order No. 11 issued in 2001 at least for OFWs in Hong Kong.
Migrante leaders also argued that the repatriation bond is too costly for Hong Kong employers.
“For an employer of a domestic helper in Hong Kong, this translates to almost HK$50,000 ($6,410). Practical and financial reasons alone will inhibit prospective employers from shelling out the amount,” said Dolores Balladares, chairperson of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-HK).
Cadaoas said that aside from the inapplicable US dollar rate in Hong Kong, the cost for repatriation should go down during lean season. She is also worried about the effects of the POEA memorandum because the competition among Filipino applicants in recruitment agencies is tough and those who can immediately find the means to “produce” the amount of money required by these agencies have the advantage. She added that with these additional costs for employers, other nationals such as Indonesians who are willing to accept lower salaries would edge out Filipinos.
Indeed, upon learning of the required repatriation and performance bonds, Cadaoas said, her prospective employer in Hong Kong backed out from directly hiring her.
Scrap MC O4
After a Feb. 8 meeting of the POEA governing board, Labor Secretary Arturo Brion said the MC 04 would be revised to exempt Canada, Italy and Hong Kong from its coverage. According to the POEA website, direct hires are predominantly in Canada and Italy because of hiring through the intercession of relatives already working there. While in Hong Kong, the transfer of household service workers to new employers make direct hiring prevalent.
Migrant groups, however, want the scrapping of the memorandum.
“No matter how the POEA reforms the Guidelines on Direct Hiring through exemptions, it will not deceive us from the truth nor divide us from our position that it burdens OFWs and is only for the benefit of the government and unscrupulous agencies,” said Balladares.
In fact, even before the revision, Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong spearheaded the formation of the Samahan Laban sa Katiwalian ng mga Recruitment Agencies at Patakarang MC-04 or Society against Abuses of Recruitment Agencies and the MC-04 Policy (SKRAP MC-04). Sixty-five groups including eight alliances, eight church-based associations, three union chapters and 44 organizations united to form the coalition which primary called for the immediate scrapping of POEA MC-04.
Balladares, a convenor of SKRAP MC-04, said that even if Hong Kong is already exempted, SKRAP MC-04 will help campaign worldwide for the scrapping of the policy. She added that the coalition is also calling for “more effective mechanisms to stamp out overcharging of fees by recruitment agencies, scrapping of the POEA Guidelines on Recruitment and Deployment of Filipino Household Workers implemented last year, junking of the OWWA Omnibus Policies and improving OWWA’s services, and for the general protection and assistance from the government to overseas Filipinos.”(Bulatlat.com)