Philippines’ Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has announced on Friday (Nov 10) that the government will be suspending the processing and issuance of Overseas Employment Certificates (OECs) for Filipinos looking to work overseas.
The suspension will take effect from November 13 to December 1 of this year.
However, there are some exceptions. Workers who are hired by international organizations, diplomats, and governments, and those returning from ‘home leave” will not be affected. Additionally, seafarers engaged by agencies will also be exempted.
This suspension is in response to an ongoing investigation surrounding “persistent reports of illegal recruitment activities”.
According to Secretary Bello, “80 to 90 per cent of direct hires are victims of illegal recruitment” and that those who misuse their authority in the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) can earn up to “a quarter of a million [pesos] for the issuance of OECs”; this translates to about SGD $17,800.
For Singapore, families looking to employ a domestic helper may therefore be amongst those who are most affected.
Said helpers who are en route to Singapore whilst awaiting their OECs have also been reportedly stranded at airports.
According to Mr Low Moon Heng, director of Passion Employment Agency, he told the Straits Times that currently, seven of his Singapore-bound workers are left in limbo in Manila.
To combat the situation, the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) have filed appeals on behalf of Filipinos who have successfully completed all prior stages of the application and “are just waiting for the final green light to leave”.
At present, there are more than 180,000 Filipino workers in Singapore and their job responsibilities are not limited to that of domestic work. Some are IT professionals and nurses, and they are too, facing similar permit woes.
Illegal recruiters and other issues
While the Philippine government has pledged to use the suspension as a way to weed out illegal activities within the POEA, it has been made apparent that Filipino workers will face a slew of problems throughout their work experience.
Besides dealing with shady recruiters, workers commonly face a lack of transparency in ‘employer’s fees’ charged by the agencies to them.
In other words, many had been reportedly hit with exorbitant fees that ate into multiple months of hard earned salaries; despite this, they were not thoroughly advised on what those fees covered.
This has prompted two migrant worker groups, the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), to call for greater transparency in said charges and fees.
Their 2016 reports urged the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to mandate agencies to individually list out expenses incurred during the recruitment process.
In doing so, foreign workers will develop a better understanding of their salary deductions.
Currently, salary deductions for foreign domestic workers will span around five months. According to TWC2, in 2015, the average worker will have to clear SGD $2,236 worth of recruitment expenses before the remuneration goes directly to them.
On top of this, another core issue plaguing the foreign worker community is poor mental health.
In a 2015 survey by Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), an alarming 24 per cent of foreign domestic workers displayed symptoms of depression and psychoticism, such as “low moods and self-esteem as well as loss of interest, pleasure and hope,” and even hallucinations.
The survey, which consisted of some 670 workers hailing from Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar, amongst other countries, further highlighted some troubling aspects of working life in Singapore.
Half of the survey’s respondents had shared that they were frequently yelled at and were exposed to name-calling, 40 per cent were not given a weekly off day and another 67 per cent had their passports held by employers.
More to be done
In response to a noteworthy abuse case involving a couple who had starved their helper to the point of severe malnutrition, the government has expressed a “zero-tolerance” stand on foreign worker abuse.
However, HOME’s then-executive director Jolovan Wham told TODAY that more needs to be done to address the issue – this is in regards to extended periods of verbal abuse that may lead to a deterioration in mental health, or any form of abuse for that matter.
He further added that workers seeking help for mental health-related issues would be sent to Silver Ribbon, a non-profit organization that “advocates against the stigma of mental illness”, and encourages early treatment.
However, in severe cases, the aforementioned worker may be directly referred to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for further evaluation.
HOME Helpline: +65 6341 5525 (Domestic workers) / +65 6341 5535 (Migrant workers)
To report a suspected offence, MOM contact: +65 6438 5122