AN overseas counterpart of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) that will be integrated into the proposed Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW) should be seriously considered to handle labor cases of OFWs abroad.
This according to representatives of ABROAD (Alliance of Bonafide Recruiters for OFWs’ Advancement and Development), a coalition of placement and recruitment agency organizations that now participates in the Technical Working Group (TWG) on DOFW Bills of the House of Representatives.
ABROAD Co-convenor and Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. (PASEI) President Raquel Bracero on Thursday said that the group is batting for the formation of an Overseas Labor Relations Commission (OLRC), a quasi-judicial tripartite body that would hear cases of employment contract violations overseas. Bracero explained that the NLRC organizational structure may be used as a model, and that arbitration should take into consideration the laws of the host country.
“The creation of this arm is aimed at halting the vicious cycle of abuses against OFWs, especially vulnerable home service workers, or HSWs,” said Bracero, who was accompanied at the TWG meeting by ABROAD co-convenors Nora Braganza and Noel Litan.
At the TWG meeting on Wednesday, TWG Chairperson and Albay 2nd District Rep. Jose Maria Clemente “Joey” Salceda welcomed ABROAD’s various proposals and said that such recommendations would make life easier for legislators working on the measure, which he said would have a tremendous impact on the lives of Filipino migrant workers and their families.
TWG Co-Chairman and 1-PACMAN Party-list Rep. Enrico “Eric” Pineda suggested that the PRAs look into establishing its own insurance fund, much like the OWWA Fund, for the payment of OFWs’ claims against agencies. The solon also enjoined ABROAD to participate actively in future committee meetings as members of the House “like to talk to people who make sense.”
Among the other points stressed by ABROAD at the TWG meeting is the necessity of hiring lawyers from the host country to ensure that OFWs with legitimate complaints have a greater chance at obtaining justice while working abroad. The group is pushing for the expansion of OFW mandatory insurance coverage to include a “Foreign Employment Practice Liability Insurance” that would cover the money claims of OFWs.
Also among the proposals of ABROAD is a recommendation to professionalize Overseas Labor Officers/Attaches by requiring them to take competitive pre-admission tests and to undergo rigorous training before they can assume posts to ensure they are ready and capable to assist OFWs in foreign lands.
Bracero lamented that under the present system, many violators and erring employers go unpunished, which leads to the vicious cycle of abuses committed by foreign employers. The situation is made even worse owing to the Joint and Solidary Liability (JSL) built into the POEA-standard employment contracts and recruiting agreements between Philippine overseas employment providers and foreign employers.
“In many cases, victims of employment contract violations and abuses are repatriated and the local PRAs are left to answer the legal complaints and money claims of OFWs, while the real culprits go scot free. Of course, we are always willing and ready to honor our obligations, but until the root causes of abuse are not addressed and there are no effective deterrents against abuses, our OFWs will always be vulnerable,” explained Bracero.
Co-convenor Litan also pointed out that PRAs must expressly be given due recognition for their role and contribution to national development in the crafting of the law creating the DOFW.
TWG Chairman Salceda acknowledged the contribution of the overseas employment sector, which currently registers a net foreign exchange inflow of 32 billion US dollars. Salceda said he would propose that PRAs be given some degree of regulatory authority via a Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO) status. The Albay lawmaker added that in the DOFW measure he would propose that certain governmental processes be left to the PRAs to allow them to regulate their own ranks, in a fashion similar to the manner in which the stock market is allowed self-regulating latitude by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Bracero said that ABROAD was amenable to such a proposal, saying that “in fact, our proposed draft bill has a provision that implements the SRO status of PRA organizations.”