MANILA - Advocates of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have expressed alarm over the inclusion of what they said were disadvantageous provisions in a consolidated bill pending at the House of Representatives drafted by the technical working group on the proposed Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).
One of these provisions is aimed at abolishing the principle of Joint and Solidarity Liability (JSL) found in existing laws, according to Venecio Legaspi, one of the founders of the Jeddah-based OFW Council of Leaders (OCL).
"Without the JSL provision, our overseas workers will be doomed and be at the mercy of foreign employers and foreign recruitment agencies that are beyond the jurisdiction of Philippine laws," Legaspi said.
In the proposed consolidated bill of the House technical working group led by Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda and co-chaired by 1Pacman Party-list Rep. Eric Pineda, recruitment and manning agencies will contribute $25 per worker to be deployed to a Malasakit sa Kabayan Fund. The fund will be held in trust by the Overseas Workers' Welfare Administration (OWWA).
Aggrieved workers will then file for money claims with OWWA, which will be tasked with validating such claims and managing the Kabayan Fund.
"Access to this fund will extinguish the moral and legal obligations of private recruitment agencies to look for the best employers because if something goes wrong, there is anyway a pool of funds to ensure quick settlements and forego legal obligations," said Legaspi.
Meanwhile, former labor undersecretary Susan Ople said the bill places most of the legal obligations towards foreign employers, who are beyond the reach of Philippine laws.
"I am sure that some of the provisions there were not reflective of the President’s desire to help our OFWs," Ople said.
In July, President Rodrigo Duterte promised to establish a separate executive department by December this year to handle matters concerning millions of OFWs across the globe.
Ople, who heads the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, cited section 46 entitled, "Liability for Money Claims", as written in the TWG version.
It states: "The liability for money claims arising out of an employer-employee relationship, or by virtue of any law, or overseas employment contract including claims for actual, moral, exemplary, and other forms of damages, shall be the sole responsibility and shall attach exclusively on the principal or employer who is responsible for acts and/or omissions giving rise to the cause of actions for such claims."
She said the entire bill is premised on the need to make foreign employers more accountable compared to private recruitment agencies and their foreign counterparts.
"They should be held equally accountable because they share a common business interest," she said.
She likewise questioned the inclusion of a provision that would make it mandatory for re-hired OFWs to obtain mandatory insurance to be charged to their employers.
"Why do we have all these insurance-related provisions when the subject matter of the bill should only be on the structure, powers, and functions of a new department?" Ople said.
She expressed fear that the proposed mandatory insurance for OFWs who have been working abroad for several years will be paid for by workers themselves.
"We can put in our laws that foreign employers should pay but to think that we would actually be able to collect it from them is delusional," she said.
The TWG approved for inclusion in its consolidated version the creation of an Overseas Labor Relations Commission (OLRC) as the overseas employment sector’s own smaller and specialized version of the National Labor Relations Commission.
"At the NLRC, money claims of workers are immediately awarded to OFWs. In the proposed OLRC, even if they win at the Commission level, they would still have to wait until all pending appeals at the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court are decided upon," said Luther Calderon of the Kabalikat ng Migranteng Pilipino, Inc. (KAMPI).
Ople urged the House leadership and the chairs of the House committees on reorganization and OFW affairs to ensure that the voices of OFWs are heard and reflected in the version of the bill the committee would approve.
"We call on our legislators and the House leadership to be wary of all of these insurance and other money claims mechanisms that are being embedded in a bill meant for our OFWs, because that has never been part of their clamor," Ople said.