'Enforcing labor migration regulations suspect'

By Jeremaiah M. Opiniano, OFW Journalism Consortium

Posted at Jul 27 2011 10:24 AM | Updated as of Jul 27 2011 06:24 PM

MANILA, Philippines – The world’s model for managing the outflow of migrant workers might be having a hard time implementing the various regulations on overseas employment, says a Filipino economist.

Dr. Aniceto Orbeta is referring to the Philippines as that global model, whose nearly-40-year-old bureaucratic army handling the exodus of workers for overseas job is noted by international organizations as a yardstick. The Philippines is also renowned for its various laws and administrative regulations on overseas employment.
But a recent policy paper co-authored by this senior fellow of the Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS) wrote that regulations on the deployment and recruitment of migrant workers are “only as good as capacities to implement”.
Orbeta’s indicator of limiting capacity by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) is the “mounting unresolved cases of illegal recruitment”.
POEA’s own data up to 2010 showed the agency handling 1,648 illegal recruitment cases in 2010, from 1,462 in 2004.
Although the number of actual illegal recruitment complainants was at a seven year-low of 468 last year, the disposition rate of these cases is only 17.2 percent while only 12 people were arrested and only six recruitment establishments have been closed.
Lagging behind
The unresolved cases, Orbeta and Michael Abrigo said in their paper for PIDS, “indicate (that) the capacity to implement may be lagging behind”.
This is not to mention that Orbeta and Abrigo cited cases that illegal recruitment violators “continue to deploy workers”.
Orbeta and Abrigo also noted other lack in the enforcement of regulations for overseas employment:
The number of disputes to be settled per overseas Filipino worker (OFW) appears to be unaffected in spite of changes in laws; The resolution of welfare and adjudication cases is satisfactory, but there is a mounting number of unresolved illegal recruitment cases; Fines for illegal recruiters may be so low so that these do not compel recruitment agencies to comply with existing rules and regulations as indicated by the number of repeated violations; and There appears to be laxity in enforcement as recruitment agencies with previously several violations —and which should have been suspended— continue to deploy workers.
“We (The Philippines) can’t resolve illegal recruitment cases rapidly. Something’s wrong with the letter of the law and the capacity to handle these recruitment cases,” he said at a recent regional policy forum on migration management in Southeast Asia.
In a written response, the POEA reminded policy forum attendees of the regulatory activities of the agency, such as the licensing and accreditation system of recruitment agencies and foreign principals, respectively; documentation and processing of employment contracts; verification of overseas jobs through the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs); and adjudication system for recruitment-related complaints.
“In all of (POEA’s) regulatory powers and programs… the underlying reason is always the protection of OFWs,” POEA said in its written reply.
Three years ago, the Commission on Audit conducted a government-wide sectoral performance audit of the overseas workers welfare program —and the COA gave similar observations on the PIDS paper.
The ineffective policies COA noted include uncollected fines from erring recruitment agencies and the maintenance of escrow deposits for these agencies; the lack of database of recruitment agencies to determine their current standing; the slow resolution of cases against recruiters; and money claims and benefits for victimized OFWs.
Since labor migration continues, COA recommended that POEA impose “stringent policies” especially because existing laws do not compel recruitment agencies “to strictly abide with existing rules and regulations.”
“The ability to better serve customers (i.e., OFWs) is founded on sound regulation (and) there is a need to ensure that such regulations are strictly enforced,” COA wrote in its 107-page audit report.
But Orbeta said if the POEA “can’t implement laws, it is like the law is useless”.
As to the Philippines being a global model of migration management, Orbeta suggested the country must be assessed not on the presence of government agencies and regulations handling labor migration but “on their (agencies’) performance”.