OWWA Urges Employment Agencies to Step Up in OFW Protection

As the number of Filipino workers deployed abroad continue to rise, employment agencies must do their share in ensuring the welfare and protection of overseas Filipino workers.

Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration underscored the need for due diligence on the part of recruitment agencies in making sure that they respect human and employment rights, as well as ethical recruitment processes prior to a worker’s deployment.

In a conference held in Makati City, Cacdac said “people are recruited out of poverty, not because of their skills, not because they have been properly matched.”

The deployment of overseas Filipino workers broke the 2-million mark last year, Cacdac said, with 2,112,331 Filipinos leaving home for jobs abroad. Of this, 80 percent are land-based, while 20 percent work at sea.

“We broke the 1-million mark about 10 years ago. Last year, we broke the 2-million mark after staying in the holding pattern of 1.8 million for three consecutive years,” he said.

Saudi Arabia remains the number one destination for Filipino migrant workers, followed by the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Qatar, and Hong Kong. Close to half (47%) are employed as domestic helpers.

“We need to shine a light on how domestic workers are recruited. The problem with too much volume is we lose a handle in terms of quality, in terms of monitoring, in terms of ensuring that each and every domestic worker recruited has been ably handled, due diligence has been observed by the recruiter,” said the chief of OWWA, whose main mandate is to look after the well-being of Filipinos during and after their stint abroad, as well as their families.

Cacdac said there must be tighter regulations in terms of looking into how domestic workers are interviewed, qualified, trained, informed, and deployed. Despite clear documentation of rules and regulations outlined by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration for the last 25 years, he sees a strong resistance among recruiters to respect their obligations. Prior to his appointment at OWWA, Cacdac has been the administrator of POEA.

The OWWA chief cited as an example a household service worker who Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello visited in Saudi Arabia last year. He said the OFW was badly beaten and brought to a hospital in a coma. She passed away about a week after the visit, Cacdac said.

“But she was a worker who only had been in Saudi for three weeks, and then that happened. Now, if the recruiter in this case would simply monitor or had monitored her from the time she arrived, then we could have saved her life,” he said.

After being initially slapped a year-long suspension, the recruiter’s license to deploy Filipino workers abroad was eventually cancelled.

Before taking on a new role at OWWA, the POEA governing board, under Cacdac’s leadership, passed a rule that directs every recruitment agency to have a welfare desk and a welfare officer assigned to monitor OFWs it had deployed.

“Not even to address or to rescue or to physically bring home… but just to monitor. And the means are all around us: Facebook, text, email, Instagram,” he said.

Cacdac said private welfare officers would be trained and accredited by the OWWA to bring them up to standards.

He also highlighted the need for an effective coordination with foreign counterparts of recruitment agencies.

“The saddest thing to hear is when you ask a recruitment agency to step in and help in the rescue effort of an OFW trapped in an employer’s household, the recruitment agency would say, ‘wala eh, sinusungitan kami nung Saudi counterpart namin eh!’ (What can we do, our Saudi counterpart is being snobbish) But who brought in the Saudi counterpart in the picture in the first place? Kayo rin di ba? Partner niyo ‘yun eh! (Don’t you do it, too? They’re your partners.)” Cacdac said.

Despite an active awareness campaign against illegal recruitment, many Filipinos still get duped.

“Illegal recruitment continues to be a problem, a scourge,” he said.

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