A Filipino who leaves the country to work abroad feels more intensely about the life and loves he or she left behind, the farther the distance from home. Yet in his journey, there are people who play crucial roles, behind desks that find power in the laws that created them, and weakness in a forty-year old system beset by angst ever present in labor migration.
What is the role of a recruitment agency in an OFW’s life? When do its obligations to the worker deployed begin and end? Are its owners, friends or foes? Are they foster parents or distant business partners? In the spectrum of a migrant’s journey, when exactly is the umbilical cord that tethers him to home cut?
If you ask an agency owner these questions, you will probably get a zillion different answers depending on the kind of life that owner has. Those who are in it for the money will never say so. Those who are in it for nobler purposes will have their own inner demons to contend with because the commerce of people can never be clean nor cut and dried.
Defining the answers to such questions fall on the lap of the admnistrator of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, namely, Attorney Hans Leo Cacdac. Yesterday, a group of agency owners held a press conference to ask for Cacdac’s ouster. In response, industry leaders and OFW advocates, including this writer issued a collective statement of support. (READ: Blacklisted recruiters seek POEA chief’s ouster)
It is in this context that the ongoing discussions about ethical recruitment practices, and whether rules can hack away at the rough edges of migration should be taken. A worker is always free to choose where to work, when, and how. Yet to work overseas, the law steps in to define certain boundaries.
Yes, you can work anywhere in the world but for that work to be considered “legal” in the eyes of government, the pathway is defined by law, and governed by certain principles and rules implemented and enforced by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
A former labor secretary once told me that if all these rules governing the business of manpower export were strictly enforced, there wouldn’t be a single recruitment agency standing. Yet, the opposite is just as true. The looser the rules, the less consistenly applied, means death for an overseas Filipino worker, particularly those toiling away in anonymity and isolation as a foreign domestic worker in the Middle East.
Today, we have a POEA administrator who has zero tolerance for recruitment agencies that come up with template excuses on why the workers they deployed ran away, got beaten up, and worse, came home sealed in a box.
In response to calls for his ouster, Administrator Cacdac wrote on his Facebook page: “This is the time for change.” He then proceeded to enumerate the reforms that form the building blocks for ethical recruitment practices. Here is an abbreviated version of his “message” for all licensed recruitment agencies that fall under the POEA’s jurisdiction:
1. Strict and proper selection of foreign recruitment partners and employers is the call of the times. Get a CLEAR picture or idea of who runs foreign offices, where they are located, the quality of welfare programs and facilities, and other relevant information. In the corporate world, this is simply called “due diligence.”
2. The matter on unauthorized recruitment personnel should be addressed. “Unauthorized recruitment personnel” comb the grassroots for applicant domestic workers. They target poor families in barangays, provincial towns and cities, and far-flung areas and do the “dirty work” for licensed recruiters. Obviously, these unauthorized personnel commit the crime of illegal recruitment, and should not be tolerated.
3. Close (Seal, Shut) information gaps with respect to realities of domestic work abroad, especially in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. “Closing, sealing, or shutting information gaps” includes providing timely information on workers’ rights and responsibilities, cultural differences between PHL and host country societies, etc.
4. A domestic worker should not be less than 23 years old. According to the most recent amendment to the law, automatic revocation of license is the penalty for deploying an underage OFW, with corresponding criminal liability. Therefore, one must be VERY CAREFUL when determining the age of the applicant. The law does not speak of “knowledge” of underage status by the recruiter as an element of the offense.
5. Make sure hired workers are not just physically prepared, but mentally prepared as well. Cases of on-site depression are not attributable to the worker alone. On the contrary, such cases illustrate fundamental flaws in disclosure of information, screening, proper handling, and monitoring of workers during the recruitment and deployment stages.
6. Make sure workers have certified skills. Training should be done through an accredited TESDA institution. And, just as important, assessment for certification purposes should be done by an INDEPENDENT ASSESSOR, and not by one who has influential ties to the recruitment agency or training institution and vice versa.
7. Job interviews should have relevant and important questions. There should be a basic set of questions that are standardized and transparent.
8. On accommodations of accepted overseas job applicants in transit – these should be decent and provided for free. I have received reports of on-site salary deductions to pay for PHL accommodation costs. Why? Also, there are reports of applicants being made to work without pay at households of recruitment agencies or some other employers. Also, there are reports that they stay at the accommodations for two to three months at a time.
9. Days or weeks prior to departure, the worker must have a copy of both the employment contract and POEA overseas employment certificate (OEC), so that, among others, a comparison could be made with regard to the job/position stated in the contract and OEC.
10. On-site monitoring is the biggest issue of them all. In this day and age, there are many means for a PH recruitment agency to monitor the wellbeing of a worker: First, communications with the foreign recruitment agency or employer; second, coordination with the famlies left behind; and third, text messaging, snail mail, or email with the workers; and, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. Let us use social media to our advantage, in the name of protecting our OFWs.
Ethical recruitment is now the buzzword in migration circles here and across the seas. Among its manifestations are:
a) No placement fees levied against workers especially domestic workers
b) Workers’ empowerment through timely and relevant information and education about labor migration, the culture, traditions and laws of destination countries, and protective mechanisms for their over-all welfare and protection
c) A more caring and rights-based environment for migrant workers throughout the full cycle of labor migration, beginning with fair and transparent recruitment processes.
Yet, there are a handful of recruiters who consider ethical recruitment as a pipe dream, if not a business barrier. Some see it as a malicious excuse for government to pass on much of its responsibility to the private sector. It all goes back to the need to define and arrive at a consensus on the role of a recruitment agency, and yes perhaps the POEA as well, in a migrant worker’s life.
For Administrator Cacdac, it is but right to expect that a company entrusted by government to deploy people across borders should have the compassion, expertise, and resources to at least monitor the movements and work conditions of these workers.
“Adelyn Sumin-ao was a schoolteacher from Bukidnon, age 23, when she applied for work as a domestic worker to Kuwait. She had a two-year old son, Christian Jay, at the time.”
“Adelyn was deployed last January 2011. Based on recruitment agency records, she had a disagreement with her employer about wages in September 2011. According to the agency, the matter was resolved. The next piece of information, based on recruitment agency records, was the most damning of all – her murder at the hands of the same Kuwaiti employers (husband and wife) on New Year’s Eve 2012.”
“How could monitoring of her situation/relationship with her employers have saved Adelyn?”
There is so much romance attached to a migrant worker’s journey, from the province where he or she lives to Manila where the recruitment agency has an office, to airports and sealanes, and abodes millions of unfamiliar miles away. Every morning, an OFW’s lonely eyes look upward and beyond, longing for home yet knowing that he or she has an obligation to finance that home, and the family that resides in it.
The POEA administrator’s job is to chip away at such romanticism and look at the practical and legal ways to ensure the safe return of that worker. Recruitment agencies play a crucial role throughout the recruitment, deployment, and reintegration cycles. To say that they don’t know where the worker is, or how he is, while the work contract is in effect begs the question – so what are you in this business for?
Those calling for the ouster of Administrator Hans Cacdac should understand why he has the overwhelming support of thousands, if not millions of overseas Filipino workers.
But more importantly, this is the time for them to also look inward.
Why is there so little traction or support for their call within the OFW community? Because there are a lot more licensed agencies already doing the ten things listed above. Because the commerce of migration should not be to the exclusion of love for country, love for others. Because, there are other business that recruiters can go into, but a life lost or a body deformed can never revert back to the innocence of pre-migration days.
The business of exporting people can never be 100% transactional like any other business. Profits should not be at the expense of human dignity. No, Atty Hans Cacdac should not be dismissed from service. If there is space for dialogue, then by all means, let’s have one. But for advocates of safe migration, it is quite clear why Hans Cacdac needs to stay put, stand firm and continue his reflection on how things can be so much better for our modern-day heroes. – Rappler.com
Writer and OFW advocate Susan Ople was a recipient of the Trafficking in Persons Hero Award from the US State Department in 2014. She has a weekly column inPanorama Magazine, Tempo, and Arab News. Her non-profit organization, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, assists distressed OFWs all over the world.
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