x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Filipinos to have say on welfare agency charter

Similar exercises in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan have already led to calls for changes to the draft charter.

ABU DHABI // Filipinos will have a say on the charter for their government's expatriate support agency before it is enshrined in law, 25 years after the office was founded.

Next Friday, Filipino groups across the Middle East, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, will take part in a video conference on the duties and management of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa).

The Owwa, which offers its members health and insurance benefits, has until now been run according to a set of guidelines.

"For the first time, an Owwa charter is going to be created and will pass through both congress and the senate," said James Mendiola, the welfare officer at the embassy in Abu Dhabi.

"The charter defines its existence and its members know where to seek assistance."

The video conference will be with Walden Bello, the Philippine congressman who heads the committee on overseas workers' affairs and Christopher Lomibao, the committee's secretary.

Terminals will be set up at the embassy in Abu Dhabi and the overseas labour office in Dubai at 11am to discuss the charter in detail. Community leaders in Jeddah, Al Khobar, Riyadh, Beirut, Doha and Amman will also take part.

In Dubai, the president of FilCom Alan Bacason will be among those at the conference.

"I appreciate that our voices as [overseas workers] are being heard on the proposed charter," said Mr Bacason, whose association is an umbrella for Filipino community groups in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.

Mr Lomibao said the video chat had been suggested in discussions with NGOs and various government agencies.

"If [they] feel there are things that need to be changed, a technical working group will study them to check if they can be included," he said.

Similar exercises in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan have already led to calls for changes to the draft charter.

Community leaders in Hong Kong wanted more representatives on Owwa's board of trustees for the various categories of overseas workers: land-based, sea-based and women. At present, there are two for each.

The committee will consider proposed amendments then submit a final bill to congress. Once cleared, it will pass to the senate.

Dennis Bandojo, a health and safety engineer in Abu Dhabi and the president of the Lingkod-OFW in Dubai, said the charter should explain in detail the management of the Owwa Fund that finances the agency from its membership fees of US$25 (Dh92) for two years.

It invests the money to give members and their dependants access to health care, disability and death benefits, loans, repatriation and other assistance.

Mr Bandojo said the agency should consider using some of its funds on education for skilled workers and professionals.

"In the UAE, we tend to focus more on the welfare of our domestic helpers," he said.

"Our government should also offer distance learning opportunities for professionals since they are the major sources of remittances."

rruiz@thenational.ae