DOLE hopes to forge bilateral agreements with 9 countries

By Mayen Jaymalin, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 06 2014 09:20 AM | Updated as of Jan 06 2014 05:20 PM

MANILA - The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) is pursuing a new bilateral agreement with at least nine countries to ensure more protection and better working conditions for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

“We hope to forge new bilateral agreement with Italy, Bahrain, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Canada, Switzerland and Oman which we are considering as among the top or emerging destination for our workers,” Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said.

Baldoz said the government needs to secure the commitments of labor-receiving countries in terms of labor cooperation, particularly on the protection of OFWs.

Last year, the Philippines forged with Saudi Arabia a new bilateral agreement ensuring better working conditions and more protection for Filipino domestic helpers working in the kingdom.

In the past, most of the countries in the Middle East had no bilateral agreements with the Philippines although they had been hiring many skilled OFWs.

For 2014, Baldoz said the DOLE intends to strengthen the protection of OFWs and facilitate their reintegration upon their return home. For this reason, the DOLE shall implement for returning OFWs the savings and entrepreneurship advocacy project called Magimpok Magnegosyo Movement (OFW-M3).

“The project aims to promote and start savings, investments and enterprise creation among OFWs with the end view of transforming OFWs into investors and enterpreneurs,” Baldoz said.

The DOLE will launch the project in the first quarter of 2014, covering about 7,500 OFWs and their families.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) is also set to implement by March an online pre-employment orientation seminar as part of the intensified campaign against illegal recruitment, Baldoz added.

The POEA is also expected to launch this month a database information system that will allow departing OFWs to proceed directly to the immigration center for validation of their overseas employment contract.

“The system will be available at NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport) this January and in other international airports by March,” Baldoz said.

Measure granting OFWs loans

Meanwhile, Sen. Cynthia Villar is pushing for the approval of a measure that will provide OFWs who have valid employment contracts a P50,000 loan from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to help boost their families’ finances during the first three months of deployment abroad.

Villar filed Senate Resolution No. 507, or “An Act Establishing A Credit Assistance Program for Overseas Workers,” that provides that any member of the family of an OFW, not disqualified by law, can be a co-borrower of the loan. The OFW must be certified by the POEA to qualify for loan application.

Villar said the loan would help OFWs in their recruitment expenses, including placement fees, documentation costs and plane tickets.

“It is but fitting to extend our OFWs all the assistance that the government can give, including an exclusive credit assistance program as proposed under this measure,” Villar added, noting that OFWs have time and again been honored as our “modern day heroes.”

Under the measure, OWWA will grant and release the loan upon proper submission by the applicant of employment contract, plane ticket and bank accounts. These must be duly certified in writing by the recruitment agency with corresponding authentication and properly certified/verified by the POEA.

Villar said the OWWA appropriation for the loan would come from the Overseas Welfare Fund. The loan shall be paid in 12 equal monthly installments or more but not exceeding 24 months at a preferred interest rate not to exceed six percent per annum through the bank account.

An OFW availing of the loan should establish a bank account where the monthly remittances of his salaries and wages abroad and payments on the loan shall be made.

“It shall be the obligation of the overseas worker-borrower to remit his earnings abroad only through the said bank account,” the resolution stated. The applicant shall execute the necessary authority for the bank to withhold the monthly loan amortization from his remittances, Villar said. – With Christina Mendez