Bishop backs halt of overseas permits for Filipino workers

Two-week suspension is due to persistent reports of workers becoming victims of illegal recruitment
Bishop backs halt of overseas permits for Filipino workers

Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong spend time together on vacant spaces in the city center during weekends. (Photo by Patricia Nabong)

A Catholic bishop has supported the decision of the Philippine government to suspend the issuance of overseas employment certificates to Filipino migrant workers starting Nov. 13.

The Labor Department announced that it is suspending the issuance of the certificates, a requirement for leaving the country, due to reports of illegal recruitment and corruption.

The suspension will be in effect for 15 working days from Nov. 13 to Dec. 1.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the suspension is due to "persistent reports" of workers becoming victims of illegal recruitment.

"We are taking this important action in view of the persistent reports of illegal recruitment activities including direct hires, and in order to protect the public from the pernicious activities of certain unscrupulous individuals preying on our [migrant workers]," said Bello in a statement.

He said an investigation will also be conducted at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration where, according to Bello, "there are people there who are earning as much as a quarter of a million [pesos] for the issuance of [the certificates]."

Based on government estimates, some 75,000 potential migrant workers may be affected by the suspension.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, head of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, said the suspension is an opportunity for the government to conduct an "internal cleansing."

"Irregularities exist within, so corrupt officials [must] be exposed, prosecuted, and severely punished," said the prelate.

He urged migrant workers to report to the Labor Department if they become victims of illegal recruitment and "denounce those employees who abused their positions."

The Federation of Free Workers described the decision as "a good stop-gap measure" even as the labor group warned of the negative impact to aspiring migrant workers.

"We hope the applicants will not lose out in the process if the suspension will result in the lapse of their job placements," said Julius Cainglet, vice president of the labor organization.

Bishop Santos advised migrant workers "not to worry about this suspension (because) it is only temporary."

Workers who are being hired by international organizations, members of diplomatic corps, which includes members of royal families, and sea-based recruitment agencies, are excluded from the suspension.

In Hong Kong, a labor official said that the Philippine decision will affect about 1,000 local families who are hiring Filipinos as domestic workers.

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"We will look into what measures we can take to help these families," said Secretary for Labor and Welfare Law Chi-kwong in a radio interview Nov. 11.

Hong Kong will need 600,000 domestic helpers in the next 30 years amid demand for elderly care, said the labor official.

In 2013, there were 320,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, 48 percent of whom were from the Philippines, 49.4 percent from Indonesia, and 1.3 percent from Thailand.

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