POEA has set up a complaint desk at its lobby in Manila.Right: Jesus Gabriel Domingo explains how complaints are filed against erring recruitment agencies.PICTURES: Joey Aguila
By Joey Aguilar/Staff Reporter
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) receives about 350 cases of contract substitution from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) every month and most of these complaints are reported from the Middle East, a senior Philippine government official has said.
The practice refers to a job contract signed by the candidate and processed by Philippine Overseas Labour Offices being swapped by another one in the host country.
Attorney Jesus Gabriel C Domingo, deputy administrator, Licensing and Adjudication at POEA, told Gulf Times that his department got an average of 15 cases from Qatar but this number was low compared to Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries. “So, it is not that problematic in a sense.”
According to the latest figures, about 200,000 Filipinos work in Qatar.
Domingo said his department is hamstrung as they have only 10 hearing officers to attend to all the complaints (4,081 in 2013) and these involve different cases from different countries.
He admitted that contract substitution, a common violation, falls under the “less serious offence” category. The penalty for recruitment agencies found to be involved in such malpractices ranges from two to six months’ licence suspension and a fine.
In the absence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances, Domingo said they usually apply four months’ suspension or a fine. Based on the law (Republic Act 10022), recruitment agencies can be fined P50,000 (QR4,500 approximately) .
Serious offences committed by recruiting agents include charging excessive rates, deployment of minors and misrepresentation in procuring a licence.
A Filipino who had previously worked in Qatar said he was a victim of both an unscrupulous agent in Manila and a bad employer in Qatar who paid salaries late and housed the staff in a crowded accommodation. However, he said he knew scores of his compatriots who had a fair work experience in Qatar.
Forty-four-year-old Edwin Salamera told Gulf Times that he was unfortunate to end up with a bad employer and decided to return home without finishing his contract. He worked in Qatar for eight months as a mason in 2010 for a sub-contractor.
He also claimed his papers were not regularised.
Salamera said he and a group of his compatriots each paid a placement fee of P30,000 (about QR2,500 ) to a manpower service company in Malate, Manila, plus an amount equivalent to one month’s salary.
According to the Republic Act (RA) 10022 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, recruitment agencies can collect from applicants (construction workers and household service workers - HSWs) a fee equivalent to one month of their salary.
Collecting more than this amount is considered a major violation under the law, according to Domingo. In this case, POEA automatically revokes or cancels the licence of the recruitment agency.
While many OFWs file complaints against erring recruitment agencies and employers, the senior official lamented that many of them also file affidavit of desistance later.
“This weakens the law. They discontinue pursuing the case after receiving money from the respondents,” he stressed.
He estimates that there are about 1,200 POEA-accredited recruitment agencies in the Philippines. He said a number of them violate some directives and provisions of the law.
Another worker who has returned home after working in Qatar said he paid P40,000 as placement fee to the agency for a job that earned him a salary of QR1,200.
He said he used to send more than half of his salary to his family in the Philippines. He spent the rest on food and other expenditures in Qatar.
He said sometimes they earned about QR200 per month as overtime pay.
Asked if he would pursue a complaint against the recruitment agency, he said he would prefer not to because he still has plans to work abroad. He said if given a chance to work in a better company in Qatar, he would grab it.
This correspondent met scores of men and women in the Philippines who have finished their contract in Qatar and returned home but were looking for fresh opportunities in this country or elsewhere in the Arabian Gulf region.
Levinson C Alcantara, marketing branch director at the POEA in Manila, told Gulf Times that problems occurred despite their efforts to ensure the welfare of OFWs, particularly HSWs. “But people still find Gulf jobs attractive and that is why such a large number of people go to the region every year.”
He noted that some of the Filipino HSWs and low-skilled workers were victims of some recruitment agencies colluding with their foreign clients (employers) .
POEA is an attached agency of the Department of Labour and Employment in the Philippines, which ensures the welfare of OFWs. It also strengthens the enforcement of recruitment laws and regulations.
Alcantara said they reviewed all original contracts signed by both the employer (abroad) and the worker in the Philippines before the workers left the country.
“If the worker faces a problem, he or she generally makes a compromise and continues with the job if the violation is not serious. Also, they cannot throw away the jobs for silly reasons because their families rely on them. Early departure may also be hampered by lack of money to buy a return ticket.”
In a report given by the POEA about the actual deployment of OFWs to Qatar, the number of equipment operators and labourers had been declining from 2008 to 2012. From 21,230 in 2008, the number went down to 14,292 in 2012.
Other categories of workers, like those in administrative/managerial work, fishermen and hunters, professional and technical work, and salespersons have a different trend.
Alcantara said the declining trend of labourers deployed to Qatar during those periods may have been caused by a number of reasons. First, the salary may be low and workers have found better offers from other countries in the same region. It is also possible that the Philippines is focusing more on sending skilled and professional workers to the region or to a particular country.
Another reason, he noted, may be a result of some changes in certain laws of one or both countries, affecting some of their bilateral agreements. Or, there may be an increasing demand from another region or country that offers better salaries.
Based on POEA data given to Gulf Times, the number of “production and related workers, transport equipment operators and labourers” started to increase from 1,473 in 2000 to 21,230 in 2008. However, it started going down the following year (2009) with 19,614 deployed to Qatar. It decreased further to 15,684 in 2010, 15,365 in 2011 and 14,292 in 2012.
The figure differs from other categories of workers such as professionals who were deployed to the country. From 123 in 2000, the number of professionals, technical and related job holders increased to 4,822 in 2011. For service workers, especially housemaids, the number kept on increasing - from 1,582 in 2000 to 25,010 in 2012.
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