x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Philippines bans to restrict overseas workers' options

A recruitment specialist is travelling to the Middle East to conduct workshops on the impact and implications of a migrant rights law to migrant workers and the recruitment industry.

ABU DHABI // The Philippines government should recognise the economic value of household workers and reject measures that prevent them seeking work overseas, a recruitment specialist and former migrant worker in Saudi Arabia said.

Lito Soriano, who is now chief executive of LBS Recruitment Solutions Corporation in Manila, will travel to the Middle East next week to meet Filipino diplomats and recruitment agencies that deal with Filipino household workers. He will be in Dubai from April 12-14.

Domestic workers' remittances contribute about $4 billion (Dh14.7bn) a year to the Philippines economy, or about 2 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, he said.

"It will be a goodwill mission," Mr Soriano said. "We want to make them understand that the domestic labour force is an important sector of our migrant population."

Mr Soriano will also conduct workshops in Doha and Kuwait on the impact and implications of the Republic Act 10022, or the Migrant Workers Act, on Filipino workers and the recruitment sector.

The law, introduced last year, seeks to improve protection for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by deploying them to "migrant-friendly" countries. It requires Philippines embassies to determine if migrants' rights are protected in countries under their jurisdiction. The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila then issues a certification that the host country is qualified to receive overseas workers.

"I believe that when the new law was passed it was meant to downsize migration and not create job opportunities," Mr Soriano said. "The certification intends to ban the country, not a specific sector of migrant workers."

A receiving country must meet four criteria: labour and social laws that protect the rights of migrant workers; a signatory to and/or has ratified multilateral conventions and resolutions for migrant workers' protection; a bilateral agreement on OFWs' rights; and introduction of positive measures to implement the first three criteria.

"Domestic workers are not covered by the labour law in the Middle East, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei," Mr Soriano said. "We fear that 90 per cent of the destination countries of OFWs will not be certified if the law is fully implemented. Currently, the certification requirement is on hold."

Mr Soriano wants to discuss "difficulties and challenges" that Manila-based recruitment agencies face in sending workers to these countries.

"Other recruitment agencies resort to fraudulent practices such as reprocessing," he said. Reprocessing occurs when a recruiter uses a particular job order or manpower request to hire a worker, but gives the worker a different job when he or she arrives in the host country.

For instance, a Filipina who was recruited as a waitress would instead find herself working as a housemaid.

"The $400 minimum wage set by the Philippines government for our household service workers may not be attainable," he said. "What is doable? We need to get feedback from foreign recruiters. What are some areas they would like to explore to resolve disputes?"

Juliet Lasalita, 45, a manager of a recruitment agency and resident of Al Ain for 21 years, said Filipino household workers were valued by Emirati families, who were willing to spend as much as Dh10,000 in recruitment costs that include the housemaid's visa, medical tests, and Daman card.

"Most Emiratis are now working and need a maid," she said. "Other families even hire as many as four housemaids."

Domestic workers should be included in the government's migration policy-making, Mr Soriano said.

"They belong to the vulnerable sector, but is there any need to ban their deployment?" he said. "We should not downgrade the contribution and worth of our domestic workers."

rruiz@thenational.ae