x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Overseas Filipino workers slapped with new fees for exit clearances

Starting this month, members of the Home Development Mutual Fund will be asked to pay a Dh20 fee directly to its authorised remittance partners.

DUBAI // Filipinos applying for their exit clearances to work abroad have been confronted with another unexpected expense.

Starting this month, members of the Home Development Mutual Fund, commonly known as Pag-Ibig Fund, are being asked to pay a Dh20 fee directly to its authorised remittance partners.

To obtain an exit clearance, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are already required to contribute to Pag-Ibig Fund.

Previously, a Pag-Ibig representative in Dubai or Abu Dhabi would accept the minimum monthly contribution of 100 pesos (Dh10) from OFWs without charging fees. One may choose to contribute more than this amount.

“It’s so inconvenient and an added burden to OFWs,” said Francis Barral, a document controller in Dubai.

He applied for his overseas employment certificate (OEC) at the Philippine overseas labour office in Al Ghusais on January 6.

Mr Barral, who has not flown home since 2009, paid Dh10 for the OEC and Dh92 as an Overseas Workers Welfare Administration membership fee.

But he said he was “surprised” to learn that he had to drive to the nearest remittance centre for his Pag-Ibig contribution and pay an additional fee.

“I was charged by Al Ansari Exchange a Dh20 remittance fee - about twice as much as my actual contribution,” he said.

At the time of payment, the dirham equivalent of 100 pesos at the remittance centre was Dh11.

“Why can’t we pay directly at the labour office which will save us time and money?” Mr Barral said. “Those who rely on public transport or those coming all the way from Ras Al Khaimah and other places in the emirates will have to spend more in taxi and bus fares.”

But Lowella Recto, Pag-Ibig’s representative in Dubai, said expatriates can also pay at Pag-ibig Fund offices in the Philippines, Globe G-Cash remittance centres, or use a credit card.

“We disseminated the information in the media as early as September last year,” she said. “It’s become a habit among many Filipinos to pay Dh10 whenever they return home for vacation. We are encouraging them to pay more than the minimum contribution to save on remittance charges, or choose another payment facility.”

Monthly contributions to the fund earn annual dividends which are credited to the member’s account. These savings are tax-free and government guaranteed, and will remain in the member’s name even if the member transfers employment or becomes unemployed.

“They’re basically saving for their future,” Ms Recto said. “The fee paid at remittance centres is a normal transaction charge.”

Pag-Ibig Fund members can also apply for a housing, multi-purpose or a calamity loan, Ms Recto said.

“Why is our government allowing private companies to benefit from this by accepting our Pag-Ibig contributions for a fee?” said Nhel Morona, rights group Migrante Middle East’s UAE coordinator.

“Ordinary Filipinos do not have the means to make a lump sum payment of 24 monthly contributions to avail of a Pag-Ibig loan.”

rruiz@thenational.ae