Protecting the Rights and Welfare of the OFWs

OFW rights and Welfare

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) have been considered the – modern-day heroes. This is for the reason that they have significantly helped our economy over the past decades. According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) or the Philippine Central Bank, the personal remittances from overseas Filipinos hit a record high of almost 35B US Dollars, equivalent to 8.9% of the country’s GDP or Gross Domestic Product in 2005. Given their much contribution to our economy, how do we ensure that the OFW rights and welfare are protected?

Despite the pandemic, cash remittances were continuously coming. A large amount was coming from the United States of America, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and the United Kingdom. This increase was coming from the following:

  1. Significant Increase in Deployment of Overseas Filipino Workers – as the restrictions and lockdown eased up, some countries slowly opened up and continued accepting the deployment of OFWs to their host countries.
  2. Strong Demand for Overseas Filipino Workers – as soon as the host countries have reopened, a significant demand for OFWs is needed
  3. Continuous Shift to Digital Support – part of the ‘new normal’ is the continuous shift to the digitalization of various businesses. With this, some businesses have expanded and become borderless digitally. Some certain processes and businesses need not be in the host country physically but can be paid in dollars or the host country’s currency.

International migration has had an important role in the economic and social dynamics of the world. Over the previous four decades, the Philippines has experienced rapid growth. Every year, around two million Filipinos have left the country in recent years, year to work temporarily abroad, primarily in the Middle East and Asia. Another 80,000-90,000 opt to relocate permanently to another nation, primarily the United States and Canada Filipinos Annual remittances from abroad amount to almost 10% of Philippine GDP. With the emergence of the coronavirus illness 2019 (COVID-19), governments throughout the world are taking precautions. Lockdowns have been enacted, interrupting economic activity and jobs, including those of migrants. The goal of a healthy and resilient Philippines must take into account the specifics. Overseas Filipinos (OF) have several obstacles in protecting the OFW rights and welfare and maintain their contribution to the growth of the country. The government will maintain consistent support and help returned and displaced OFs, as well as endeavor to alleviate heightened susceptibility. Among those who have remained overseas Those who have decided to return to the Philippines permanently, Priority will be given to their effective socio-economic reintegration. Initiatives to promote financial inclusion for OFs and their families will also benefit.

Working overseas, however, is not necessarily a route to greener pastures. There are Overseas Filipinos (OF) who are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and forced labor, and violence. Along with Uganda, Kenya, and Indonesia, the Philippines is one of the top four sending nations for migrant domestic workers around the globe. Between 1992 and 2015, an average of 86,000 Filipinos traveled overseas for employment as domestic service workers.

Challenges OFWs Often Face

Unfortunately, even before they depart the Philippines, OFWs are exposed to risks and predation. According to a poll performed as part of the study, the following are among the pre-employment or pre-deployment problems that OFWs face:

  1. High recruiting expenses
  2. Illegal recruiting can be caused by unregistered agencies or by licensed agencies engaging in forbidden operations
  3. Contract and visa deceit is frequently associated with a lack of knowledge about contract terms and conditions and the misuse of visa rules
  4. Contract violation (delayed/unpaid salaries, unauthorized deductions, wage discriminations, non-provision of benefits or health and social insurance, excessive work hours, housing and accommodation problems, premature termination and failure to secure entitlements, involuntary work arrangements)
  5. Maltreatment or mistreatment (physical/verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, false allegation, forced medical check-up, pregnancy test, testing for HIV-AIDS, confiscation of personal belongings, employer’s lack of respect for cultural or religious beliefs and practices)
  6. Immigration and document-related problems (invalid entry, expiration of work permit, suspected participation in a crime, arrest, and detention)
  7. Contract substitution
  8. Health or medical problems
  9. Personal issues (issues relating to loneliness, depression, separation, financial pressure)
  10. Sexual abuse that included harassment and rape (human trafficking, molestation, rape, or acts of sodomy)

Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Public Employment Service Office (PESO), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) , and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) has been very strict in recruitment activities. These government agencies regulate the recruiting guidelines and protect the employees who wanted to try greener pastures abroad from any illegal recruitment activity.

There are some sprints in attaining justice. Unfortunately, most OFWs would not want to report to the authorities these unfair incidents because of 1) the hosting county’s institutions and fragmented laws and policies 2) Fear, Shame, and Threat 3) They feel that there are no financial support and 4) that no one would listen to their grievances. 

The COVID-19 outbreak is not the first health disaster that Overseas Filipinos have encountered (OFs). However, none of the other crises, including SARS, Ebola, and MERS-CoV, has resulted in widespread job losses, relocation, or repatriation. The ongoing health crisis has been especially challenging and onerous for migrant workers, as major loopholes in policy and law enforcement have been uncovered at the expense of displaced and returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). The trend of global integration of products and services, as well as Filipinos’ innate desire to improve the living conditions of their families, will continue to drive Filipinos to leave the country, even for remote and dangerous locations, in search of better employment and the proverbial greener pastures.

While the government’s attempts to offer required and urgent aid are commendable given the pandemic’s unprecedented scope and effect, there is still more that can be done to improve labor migration management and development.

Rights of Every OFWs to Remember

Listing down the OFW Rights and Welfare that we wish to remind the OFWs. Often, we forget that we are humans too and that we deserve these rights. We have been enslaved by the capitalist system and we tend to overlook or forget these rights:

1. The right to Equality 

  • You are equal to everyone, regardless of your race, color, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political beliefs, or age.
  • It is common to believe that you are superior because of your ethnicity or that you are wiser because you are older, but this is not always true.
  • Respect must be shown to be respected.

2. The right to an Opinion

  • There is no right or wrong opinion and it should be respected. 
  • You can try to convince or change others’ opinions, but if the individual is adamant about his or her point of view, it is preferable to respect it.
  • Don’t get offended if someone expresses a viewpoint with which you disagree. 
  • Agree to disagree. Remember that people may not always agree, but it is better to be neutral than to be adversaries.

3. The right to work

  • Everyone has the right to work for any firm, in a suitable working environment, and to be protected against unemployment.
  • If nothing seems to be going right for you at your present job and you have done everything you can to improve the situation, you should hunt for a new one that respects these rights.

4. The right to equal pay

  • You should always be paid fairly for the work you accomplish.
  • You should, on the other hand, labor as much as you are paid.

5. The Right to Fair Compensation

  • It’s one thing to be overworked; it’s quite another to be underpaid.
  • However, being underpaid has an impact on a person’s finances and may result in decreased productivity.
  • A person who is paid less than he should be must demand a raise or further social protection.

6. The freedom to organize and join trade unions

  • An employee may wish to organize or join a trade union at some point in his or her career to band together with his or her coworkers and support the preservation of their rights.
  • Employers may perceive this as a threat and prohibit employees from organizing or joining a union. This is a crime that is punished by law.

7. The right to rest and recreation

  • Employees are individuals, and individuals require relaxation. This right states that each employee must be allotted a reasonable number of working hours each week, including periodic paid holidays.
  • Companies have different holiday policies; therefore, it is advisable to take note of whatever policy your firm follows when recruited to avoid future misunderstandings.

8. The right to a decent level of living

  • Everyone has the right to necessities such as food, clothes, shelter, and medical treatment.
  • People have the right to security at times of unemployment, disease, disability, and old age.

An influx of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) have returned home. Along with this unexpected homecoming, so did anxiety about the approaching uncertainties they would confront returning home, including work and a source of income. There are ways that we can initiate and do to help them protect the OFW rights and welfare: 

  • A unified information program
  • Better data reporting
  • Investment in staff training and digital infrastructure
  • Cultivate private sector partnerships at the national and international levels.

Some OFWs who lost their jobs were distressed and do not know what to do, here are some of the government’s responses. 

  1. Information about OFW Assistance. Because of the large number of returning Filipinos, the DOLE created the OFW Assistance Information System in June 2020, a tracking system for repatriation OFWs (OASIS). The system seeks to make data gathering easier for DOLE, allowing for the easy identification and classification of incoming OFWs and the provision of relevant government support. 
  2. Financial Assistance. To give economic relief, the DOLE provided financial support to displaced land-based and sea-based OFWs through its Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong Program (“DOLE-AKAP for OFWs”)3 with a P2.5 billion cash allocation under Republic Act No. 11469, often known as the Bayanihan 1 legislation. Each OFW whose job was impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak receives a one-time cash help of USD200 or P10,000 under the scheme.
  3. Local OFW Help Desks. To further assist returning OFWs, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) issued Memorandum Circular No. 2020-075 in May 2020, directing all regional offices to establish local OFW Desks and designated OFW Officers in regions, provinces, highly-urbanized cities (HUC), and independent component cities (ICC). The primary responsibility of the designated DILG OFW Desk Officer is to: 1) coordinate with the local chief executive (LCE) concerned and provide relevant information about the arriving OFWs; 2) ensure that LGUs provide all necessary assistance to OFWs; and 3) monitor the health status of all Filipino repatriates within their respective jurisdictions via city, municipal, and barangay health workers. 
  4. Upskilling, retooling, and entrepreneurial training are all available. After more than a year of dealing with the pandemic and shifting degrees of travel restrictions, mobility, and quarantines, the government has pushed repatriated OFWs to reskill and seek alternative opportunities in local employment or entrepreneurship in cooperation with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and its subsidiary, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), prepared upskilling and retooling programs for OFWs under the government’s National Employment Recovery Strategy (NERS). Also, highly skilled OFWs are welcome to join TESDA as potential resource persons/trainers to share their knowledge and expertise gained from their overseas employment. 
  5. For displaced OFWs who are interested in venturing into entrepreneurship, the Bureau of Small and Medium Enterprise Development (BSMED) and Small Business Corporation (SBC) of DTI provide entrepreneurship training and loan packages for start-up businesses. Other government agencies also pooled resources to assist returning OFWs. The Department of Transportation (DOTr) put up quarantine facilities near airports, ports, and terminals for easy access, which included two quarantine ships and a treatment facility for seafarers. The Department of Tourism (DOT), on the other hand, facilitated the accreditation of quarantine hotels and other appropriate accommodation facilities to serve as quarantine spaces for returning OFWs. 
  6. Policy Challenges. In the initial formulation of the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, international migration and development (IMD) issues were mainstreamed in nine out of fifteen chapters. While this reflects the crosscutting nature of migration and the need for a whole-of-government approach, the updated PDP 2017-2022 released by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) in February 2021 highlights a new chapter dedicated to the socio-economic development targets for OFs, particularly for OFWs (PDP Chapter 21). Deliberate attention is given to the unique circumstances of OFWs and their families with a special focus on their eventual reintegration and active participation in the country’s development processes. 
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Written by: Ruby Baclid