“The new department has its work cut out for it.”
We’ve been calling overseas Filipinos workers “mga bagong bayani” or new heroes for so long, and yet the same problems that have bedeviled them for a long time have gone largely unresolved. That, or thy are addressed piecemeal by various agencies acting independently of each other.
The creation of a new Department of Migrant Workers (DOMW) that would help OFWs find jobs abroad or assist them when they complain of problems in their work places, such as abusive employers or non-payment of wages, is therefore long overdue.
We recall that in the past two decades, no less than 3,000 Filipinos were leaving for employment abroad on a daily basis. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 6,000 had been crowding airports every day, eager to leave and try their luck in foreign shores so they can feed their families back home. An estimated one-tenth of the current population of 109 million has left for the proverbial greener pastures in the four corners of the world.
The new department’s jurisdiction will cover overseas employment and labor migration. It is expected to do everything within its mandate to enhance protection for OFWs in the wake of too many cases of abuses by recruitment agencies and employers.
The Department of Migrant Workers will bring together under one roof several agencies handling different OFW concerns under several government departments. Among these are the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), and six other offices currently under other departments, including the Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs under the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Office of the Social Welfare Attaché under the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
The POEA was established in 1982 to promote and monitor the overseas employment of Filipino workers. It was reorganized in 1987 to respond to changing markets and economic conditions, and to strengthen programs to protect Filipino workers and enhance the over-all overseas employment program.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), an agency under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), is tasked with protecting the interests of OFWs and their families. It provides social security, cultural services and help with employment, remittances and legal matters.
The Department of Migrant Workers would have broad powers. It will regulate the recruitment, employment, and deployment of OFWs and launch investigations and file cases concerning illegal recruitment and human trafficking cases involving OFWs.
The new department, which is envisioned as a one-stop shop for OFWs, will be provided an initial funding of P1.1 billion. That’s not much given the scope of its responsibilities, but it should be enough for its first year so it can hit the ground running this year to address longstanding issues affecting OFWs, such as red tape, illegal recruitment, and safe and timely repatriation during crisis situations in their host countries. The last one is particularly important since at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, some 800,000 OFWs had to be sent home as companies across the globe retrenched workers to survive the economic crunch.
The new department will have its hands full working in coordination with the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking and the Department of Justice to “investigate, initiate, sue, pursue, and help prosecute” cases involving illegal recruitment and human trafficking.
The problem of illegal recruitment has been a festering one, with workers duped into applying for apparently high-paying jobs that turn out to be the very opposite as they were given wages much less than promised.
The new department will also have to coordinate with the Department of Labor and Employment that has come up with the “National Action Plan to Mainstream Fair and Ethical Recruitment,” which seeks to decisively address the problem of illegal and unfair recruitment practices.
Filipinos now account for at least five percent of all migrant workers globally. The Philippines also ranks the seventh in terms of deployment of its citizens to foreign jobs, with OFWs among the world’s biggest senders of precious dollar remittances to their families back home.
The establishment of the DOMW is significant step forward as its mandate covers no less than 10 million Filipinos working overseas whose remittances add up to a hefty 12 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
We have high hopes that the new DOMW will be able to perform its tasks well in the first few years of its operations. We don’t expect the problems of illegal recruitment and abuses against OFWs by employers to disappear overnight, but at least there’s going to be a coordinated effort to address all these problems.
With the country’s growing population and a bigger labor force in the years ahead, the Department of Migrant Workers will certainly have its hands full coping with a huge challenge. But we wish them all the best as they embark on giving a better deal for OFWs in the years ahead.