MANILA - Recruitment agencies must do their share in ensuring the welfare and protection of Filipino workers they deploy abroad given their steadily increasing numbers.
Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) underscored the need for due diligence on the part of recruitment agencies in making sure that they respect human and employment rights, as well as ethical recruitment processes prior to worker's deployment.
“People are recruited out of poverty, not because of their skills, not because they have been properly matched,” Cacdac said in a conference in Makati City last week organized by the Futuristic Center.
During the conference, Cacdac shared that the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) broke the 2-million mark last year, with 2,112,331 workers. Of this, 80 percent are land-based, while 20 percent work at sea.
“We broke the 1-million mark about 10 years ago. Last year, we broke the 2-million mark after staying in the holding pattern of 1.8 million for three consecutive years,” he said.
Saudi Arabia is still the number one destination for Filipino migrant workers, followed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Singapore, Qatar and Hong Kong.
Household service workers account for nearly half of OFWs at 47 percent, up from the 35 to 40 percent range.
“We need to shine a light on how domestic workers are recruited. The problem with too much volume is we lose a handle in terms of quality, in terms of monitoring, in terms of ensuring that each and every domestic worker recruited has been ably handled, due diligence has been observed by the recruiter,” he said.
Cacdac said there must be tighter regulations in terms of looking into how domestic workers are interviewed, qualified, trained, informed, and deployed.
He said the obligation of recruitment agencies to monitor a worker has been in the books, rules and regulations of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) for the last 25 years.
“But based on my experience when I was with POEA, there was still very strong resistance among the recruiters with respect to their obligation to monitor,” he said.
The OWWA chief cited as an example a household service worker who Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello visited in Saudi Arabia last year. He said the OFW was badly beaten and brought to a hospital in a coma. She passed away about a week after the visit, Cacdac said.
“But she was a worker who only had been in Saudi for three weeks, and then that happened. Now, if the recruiter in this case would simply monitor or had monitored her from the time she arrived, then we could have saved her life,” he said.
The recruiter, he said, was initially penalized with a yearlong suspension. Its license was eventually cancelled.
Before he left the POEA, Cacdac said the governing board passed a rule that directs every recruitment agency to have a welfare desk and a welfare officer assigned to monitor OFWs it had deployed.
“Not even to address or to rescue or to physically bring home… but just to monitor. And the means are all around us: Facebook, text, email, Instagram,” he said.
Cacdac said private welfare officers would be trained and accredited by the OWWA to bring them up to standards.
He also highlighted the need for an effective coordination with foreign counterparts of recruitment agencies.
“The saddest thing to hear is when you ask a recruitment agency to step in and help in the rescue effort of an OFW trapped in an employer’s household, the recruitment agency would say, ‘wala eh, sinusungitan kami nung Saudi counterpart namin eh!’ But who brought in the Saudi counterpart in the picture in the first place? Kayo rin di ba? Partner niyo 'yun eh!” Cacdac said.
Despite an active awareness campaign against illegal recruitment, many Filipinos still get duped.
“Illegal recruitment continues to be a problem, a scourge,” he said.
But despite being highly ranked in the US State Department Trafficking in Persons report and Amnesty International’s Global Slavery Index, the Philippines continues to fare well in the campaign against the illegal deployment of OFWs.
“But that is not to say that it has been eliminated. We continue to be vigilant and we have to further strengthen our inter-government partnerships and mechanisms to protect and prevent illegal recruitment,” he said.