Department of OFW lobbied in Congress
Third District Rep. Arthur Yap pushes for the creation of Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW) to ensure that concerns of OFWs will be attended to promptly and problems concerning their employment outside the country will be pre-empted by pro-active measures.
Yap filed House Bill 822 entitled “An act establishing the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW), defining its powers and functions, appropriating funds therefore and for other purposes”, proposing the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers Act of 2016.
The proposed DOFW, a counterpart of the previous Senate Bill 31 filed by Senator Cynthia Villar in the 16h Congress. will focus solely on the needs and welfare of OFWs.
HB 822 includes a proposed provision on special assistance revolving fund for OFWs in distress, both documented and undocumented, in the amount of P1 billion.
The fund shall be utilized for repatriation; medical expenses, hospitalization and purchase of medicine in the form of vouchers for six months from arrival; migration fees for overstaying Filipinos; legal assistance including litigation expenses, legal fees, payment of translation fees, attendance in court hearings; payment of blood money, when necessary; and basic necessities of OFWs caught in emergencies or are detained; provided that 30 percent of the total fund shall be allotted to support a livelihood training program or re-training of returning OFWs in new skills and literacy.
The proposed creation of DOFW is intended to ensure the protection of the rights of OFWs, promotion of their welfare, safety, and support.
It will also ensure that the government reaches out and cooperates with other states where there are OFWs.
With the DOFW, the government will develop a database for OFWs to ensure assistance in times of distress; and to establish a strong and effective regulatory system that will ensure only fit Filipinos are allowed to work outside of the country.
It will also promote the human capital development of OFWs to enable them to better compete in other countries.
The proposed DOFW will also take charge of the deployment and repatriation assistance and support to OFWs, and to promote the reintegration of returning OFWs.
Yap cited the record at Commission on Filipino Overseas (CFO) showing an estimate of approximately 10.2 million Filipinos working or residing abroad.
Of this figure, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) estimated that roughly 2.4 million are overseas workers, according to Yap.
“More then a million Filipinos every year leave to work abroad through overseas employment agencies, and other programs, including government-sponsored initiatives. Overseas Filipinos often work as doctors, physical therapists, nurses, accountants, IT professionals, engineers, architects, entertainers, technicians, teachers, military servicemen, seafarers, students and fast food workers,” Yap further cited.
He also noted that many overseas workers are women applying as domestic helpers and caregivers.
“The exodus includes a number of skilled workers taking on unskilled work overseas, resulting in what has been referred to as a brain drain,” Yap added.
He cited the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) record showing that in 2015, cash remittances sent via the formal banking networks by OFWs amounted to $25.76 billion that reflects an increase by 4.6 percent from the record of $24.63 billion in 2014.
The BSP also reported that personal remittances- -such as fund transfers that were not captured by the banking sector- -increased by 4.4 percent year-on-year to $28.5 billion as of end-December.
The total remittances accounted for 9.8 percent of gross domestic product and 8.3 percent of gross national income, Yap cited.
“Working in another country as an overseas workers definitely involves some risks. Working conditions among Filipinos employed abroad vary depending on whether the host country acknowledges and enforces international labor standards,” according to Yap.
The various forms of abuse experienced by OFWs include rude treatment from government representatives or embassy officials, exploitation of any sort by an employer or a recruiter, unfair charging of unnecessary fees, illegal and untimely termination of work contract, human trafficking, and various forms of harassment, as Yap had researched.
He added that there are even particular reports regarding OFWs who had been sexually assaulted or physically attacked which could be a cause of grave concern for the overseas employees and their families.
He said that at present, several government agencies are involved in looking after the welfare and interest of OFWs. Among them are the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) of the Department of Labor (DOLE).
These agencies are mandated to address the main concerns of OFWs, which include repatriation, illegal recruitment, excessive collection of placement fees, and legal assistance.
“Unfortunately, the government has a very complicated migration management structure. While coordination of these agencies is essential, they often lead to overlapping of functions and responsibilities and wastage of public funds,” according to Yap.
In HB 822, Yap proposed that a department will be created as one that is dedicated to the task of addressing issues of OFWs and coordinate the delivery of services of all these agencies dealing with OFWs, study all the problems of our workers abroad and find solutions to their problems.
“A separate department for OFWs is necessary because overseas workers have their own unique concerns that pertain only to their sector. Our OFWs are the new heroes and heroines of our country because they keep the economy afloat, but the way in which we are responding to their needs is simply not enough,” according to Yap.
Yap proposed that DOFW’s mandate is to be the primary administrative entity of the government that protects and provides assistance to OFWs who are holders of Philippine passports; and it will be the policy, planning, implementing, and regulating entity of the government on this matter.
The POEA and OWWA will then be attached agencies for policy and program coordination and shall continue to function in accordance with the charters, laws or orders creating them.
HB 822 also proposes that “the laws and rules on government reorganization as provided for in Republic Act 6656 or the Reorganization Law shall govern the reorganization process of the proposed department.
It also includes the proposal that the proposed DOFW “may create sectoral and industry task forces, technical working groups, advisory bodies or committees for the forbearance of its objectives.
“Additional private sector representatives such as from the OFWs, academe and private industries directly involved in deployment of OFWs, other national government agencies, local government units, and government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs)”.