MANILA — Despite encouragement from government and the private sector, abused overseas Filipino workers (OFW) tend to withdraw and settle cases they file against their employers abroad.
Based on the 2021 research commissioned by the Ople Center titled "Seeking Justice: Developing Improved OFW Feedback and Complaints Mechanisms," only 15 percent or 719 of complaints filed by OFWs were pursued, citing figures from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in 2020.
Two percent or 71 of cases have been withdrawn, while over 58 percent or 2,697 opted for settlement.
The research was a product of desk review, interviews with 40 key experts from January to March 2021, validation workshops with over 100 participants including government officials, and interviews with migrant workers.
According to former Internal Labor Organization-Asia Pacific Region deputy regional director Alcestis Abrera Mangahas, who headed the research, several factors influence those decisions.
One of those is the ability of OFWs to secure or attain justice.
“Some of our findings show that OFWs find it untenable to seek justice under the destination countries, hardly understood institutions, there are fragmented laws and policies... language barriers. These are aggravated by unfriendly immigration and work permit processes,” Mangahas explains.
Overseas workers are left with no choice but to pursue their cases in the Philippines, where government pushes their agencies to respond to the complaints first.
However, only “1/3 of these workers will seek help” due to threats, fear, shame, resignation and acceptance, “thinking that no one will listen or believe, they can still manage, or it is part of their work contract,” Mangahas said.
OFWs are also overwhelmed with information from various sources, making it hard for them to navigate just to get “concrete guidance” for their case.
Furthermore, financial and opportunity costs are at stake. Aside from threats from employers and agencies to blacklist them, their own families put a pressure on them to continue working to sustain their level of living.
“As a result— there is a very strong internal pressure to settle. That is a goal of government- for workers to get into a settlement so they would be able to get their settlement quickly and move on,” said Mangahas.
The former ILO official recommends that a “hub” serves as an “oversight system” to bring “order” in the government’s current complaints mechanism.
Based on the same research, government agencies such as OWWA, International Labor Affairs Bureau, National Labor Relations Commission, and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration do have their own monitoring systems for overseas workers but they “do not speak to each other.”
This means, with different procedures, there is no unified workers' complaint mechanism, making it difficult for the government to respond more efficiently and for distressed OFWs to see progress in their cases.
Mangahas recommends that a hub be created and funded by the government to fill this gap.
“It does not mean a new institution. But it does mean having coordination with amongst the different agencies... Cases need to be tagged and tracked… Some cases need urgent action,” said Mangahas.
She said the government must have a “unified information program” to report data, analyze cases on ground to respond better, and train more staff particularly on gender sensitivity.
The Duterte administration has long promised to set up an OFW Department to manage these affairs, but OFW advocate Susan “Toots” Ople warns Filipino migrant workers to manage their expectations.
“It cannot immediately end or reduce barriers to justice. It is also very important to cast a wide talent search for the best recruit for this new department and we keep the hard working personnel with clean records of competent service,” said Ople.
The report was released ahead of the World Day Against Trafficking on Friday, July 30.