x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Filipino congress member explains plan to double fee

Bill would have doubled the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration fee from US$25 to US$50.

People seeking jobs overseas read ads outside a recruitment agency.
People seeking jobs overseas read ads outside a recruitment agency.

A plan to double the government fees paid by overseas Filipino workers was introduced with good intentions, says the Philippine congress member who put it forward.

The bill, which has since been withdrawn, sparked outrage on blogs and social-networks sites.

Maria Theresa Bonoan-David proposed doubling the US$25 Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) fee, which is paid before every Filipino leaves the country to find work.

The fee, which is renewed every two years, goes towards OWWA's emergency repatriation fund and gives workers and their dependents access to health care and benefits in case of disability or death.

It should be paid by an agency or employer, but in practice the worker usually pays.

The bill to amend the Filipino Migrant Workers Act, filed on May 17, sparked online uproar.

"We were alarmed," said Anna Lourdes Feliciano, Ms Bonoan-David's chief of staff. "She had good intentions for overseas Filipino workers and never suggested that $50 would be taken from them."

Ms Bonoan-David withdrew the bill on Monday last week.

Ms Feliciano said the bill had been "misconstrued because of erroneous reports on the internet".

"We were surprised people made a big issue out of it since it's not a law yet," she said. "It's only a proposal that will be deliberated on. It will take time for a bill to become a law."

Ms Bonoan-David has said there will be no increase in the OWWA contribution and the bill had already been "killed" by congress.

She drafted a second bill last month "urging the OWWA to allocate a large chunk of its funds for the college scholarship of children of overseas workers".

This proposal, said Ms Feliciano, was "made with the purest of intentions".

But Garry Martinez, the chairman of Migrante International in Manila, said withdrawing the first bill "sends a strong signal to government officials not to propose bills that will be a burden to their countrymen".

Yesterday, Reinelle Lomboy, 28, an assistant teacher in Abu Dhabi, was at the Philippine embassy to renew her OWWA membership. She also paid Dh10 for her overseas employment certificate and Dh20 as her contribution to a housing fund.

"We pay all kinds of fees to our government," Ms Lomboy said. "It's good that the congresswoman withdrew the bill. I think she realised that we're already burdened with so many fees."

Mr Martinez said: "The congresswoman should learn her lesson. It's not with a magic of a pen that government officials propose bills. They need to consult the people and hold public dialogues."

rruiz@thenational.ae