The “modern heroes” of the Philippines are being stabbed in the back – by their own government.
These legitimate heroes are of course the millions of overseas Filipino workers, the OFWs around the world who labor far away from their families and under difficult conditions in alien lands to be able to live decent lives which their government could not afford to give them.
Already reeling from the sharp cut in their purchasing power with the continuing appreciation of the Philippine peso, the OFWs recently woke up to find another dagger embedded on their collective back – courtesy of their own beloved government again.
Out of the blue, the labor authorities in Manila, the Philippine Overseas Employment Authority (POEA) in particular, came out with a memorandum making it a lot more difficult and costly for foreign employers to hire Filipino workers.
POEA Memorandum Circular No. 4 requires foreign employers to post a $5,000 repatriation bond and a $3,000 performance bond to the Philippine government for each of the Filipino workers they intend to hire.
Under the circular approved on Dec. 18, 2007, foreign employers who want to directly hire Filipino workers need to have their applications screened by the labor attaché or the Philippine embassy and finally approved by the Labor secretary. It took effect last Jan. 15.
OFWs said the new order will virtually cost them their jobs as foreign employers would be forced to choose workers from other labor-exporting countries that do not require such stringent and costly requirements.
The workers denounced the order as “anti-Filipino” in general and “anti-OFW” in particular.
The Philippine government says the performance bond will guarantee payment of the OFW’s salary for the duration of his or her job abroad. The repatriation bond will assure that in the event the OFW dies, he or she can be sent back to his or her country.
The order makes no distinction between new and current OFWs.
As to be expected, the reaction to the latest dictum from Manila was not quite pleasing.
In Hong Kong, a group of OFWs condemned the Philippine government order as a “grave threat to our employment.”
Dolores Balladares, chairwoman of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, said Filipino workers who are renewing their contracts with their employer or are transferring to another employer because of a finished or a pre-terminated contract stand to lose their employment under the new policy.
She said: “For an employer of a domestic helper in Hong Kong, this (bond) translates to almost HK$50,000. Practical and financial reasons alone will inhibit prospective employers from shelling out the amount.”
She said that in “the desperation of the (Philippine) government to increase its financial gains from the labor export industry” it has allegedly put the livelihood of OFWs in a vulnerable situation.
She called on the Philippine government to immediately scrap the “dangerous POEA MC-04.”
For their part, OFWs in Singapore urged the Philippine Congress to review and repeal the circular, citing its negative effects on Filipino workers.
Faced with mounting complaints, the Philippine Embassy in Singapore said it is suspending the implementation of the new government guidelines.
An OFW in Singapore told GMA TV network that some employers there have expressed reluctance to hire Filipino applicants after learning about the new direct-hiring policy.
“Some of my friends who are seeking employment here were outright rejected after knowing that they were Filipinos. The employers were telling them that Filipinos are in the bottom of their priority after knowing of the new policy,” said Van from Singapore.
“I feel that it is not towards the benefit of the OFWs because if they did consider the OFWs, they should know that this will have a tremendous effect on employment of Filipino workers,” according to Sheryl, also from Singapore.
“The government can no longer provide good quality work to its people to improve their lives, now it is even hindering their chances to provide their families a better life,” Mark said in an email.
“This is a anti-OFW policy coming from the very organization created to help and improve OFWs,” Gian Aka commented.
In Italy, more than 2,000 Filipino workers have signed a petition strongly opposing the POEA memorandum.
For Italian employer Susana Marchesin, Filipino domestic workers are one of the best in the world but with the implementation of the POEA memo she said she no longer plans to employ Filipinos in the future.
The Philippine Consulate in Milan scored the timing of the release of the POEA circular and said the provisions of the memo do not apply with the general condition of Filipino workers in Europe.
Meanwhile, Philippine Labor Secretary Arturo Brion defended the policy, saying the new guidelines were intended to “strengthen the protection mechanisms for overseas Filipino workers.”
The policy was meant to reinforce the provision of the Philippine Labor Code that prohibits direct hiring of Filipino workers, except for selected employers such as diplomats, heads of international organizations and other employers as may be approved by the secretary of labor and employment, he said.
It looks like that in seeking for greener pastures abroad, Filipino workers have become the milking cows of their own government.