While many overseas Filipinos or OFWs are hopeful that their general welfare will be significantly improved and uplifted by the newly-created Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), some prominent OFW rights advocates are skeptical. Saudi Arabia-based Eli Mua is among them. Aware and alarmed by the continuing rampant abuses of OFWs, he constantly makes a strong push for more effective and timely assistance to be extended to distressed OFWs. His impatience and increasingly critical pleas for action are understandable.
Pleas for immediate help and an end to daily torment to distressed OFWs are often heart-rending and alarming. But despite pleas, scores don’t get the immediate relief and help that they seek due to a plethora of factors. These include the inability of overworked Philippine embassy or consulate staff to cope adequately with heavy work burden, bureaucratic procedures, heavy reliance on Foreign Recruitment Agencies (FRAs) to resolve work disputes between employers and foreign maids, occasional incompetence of embassy staff and a host of other factors.
Amid this distressing backdrop, the DMW and its newly-appointed head Susan Ople needs to treat the following among its priorities as regards OFWs in the Middle East:
1] Set up a one or several Facebook “quick response hot lines” most times or throughout the day and night, ideally by ex-OFWs in the Middle East who are competent in providing sound and reliable advice
While this operation is comparable to a typical call center operation, it is pointless to employ people without a trouble-shooting competence in advising people in distress.
Why is there a need to set up this “call center” mode of operation? Because OFWs who are badly battered physically, psychologically and even sexually need immediate assistance.
Embassy staff in Riyadh and elsewhere in the Middle East often take considerable time before they can adopt measures in response to distress calls for emergency assistance from OFWs in great distress. They need to comply with prevailing local regulations in host countries and can’t intervene directly and immediately in employer-OFW disputes. Thus, the need for a mechanism to provide immediate relief and assistance to distressed OFWs even in the form of counseling.
2] Adopt “Strike One” policy on errant recruiters in the Philippines and in the Middle East
While the tenet of being “presumed innocent until proven guilty” remains very much valid, exceptions are necessary in certain circumstances, especially in cases of battered and seriously abused OFWs. Formal complaints of at least two to three parties against a particular agency, local or FRA, should immediately alarm the DMW or the POEA. The subject of complaints should be immediately suspended from its deployment of OFWs until filed complaints are resolved adequately. If this harsh action isn’t taken against errant agencies, more OFWs may be deployed and suffer the same fate. In the matter of protection of Filipino workers’ interests, top priority and precedence should always be accorded to OFWs ahead of recruitment agencies.
3] Adopt select extended deployment bans
Over the past year or so, labor officials have imposed brief bans on deployments to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and a few other Middle East countries following horrific abuses on certain OFWs.
Sadly and inexplicably, those bans were more of knee-jerk reactions to media reports of atrocities inflicted on certain OFWs. As a result of the short duration of those deployment bans, OFWs continue to suffer serious abuses.
4] Set up government training centers and shut down sham centers
In the case of OFWs bound for Hong Kong, some have related on Facebook their experiences of being given little actual training in operating washing machines and other essential home equipment yet they were charged a training fee of about ₱15,000.
5] Mandatory language training programs
Communication problems are a significant cause of misunderstandings and subsequent pre-terminations of work contracts of OFWs in Hong Kong. The solution is as clear as sunlight. Ensure departing OFWs, especially first-timers, are equipped with sufficient language proficiency in their countries of destination. The Indonesian government has made this mandatory for Hong Kong-bound domestics. The Philippines can take Indonesia’s lead.
6] Set up government lending scheme for first-time OFWs
In numerous instances, first-time OFWs incur substantial debts often with loan sharks before they work overseas. The government-owned Land Bank earns a net profit of about ₱20 billion a year. Why can’t LBP be asked to often a lending window to first-time OFWs upon presentation of processed work contracts for abroad?
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