New labor cooperation agreement with NZ does away with placement fee

MANILA, Sept. 21 (PNA) — Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz and New Zealand Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Michel Woodhouse had signed a landmark labor cooperation agreement that strongly implements a no-placement fee for overseas Filipino workers going to New Zealand, clamps down hard on illegal and unscrupulous recruiters and agents, and prosecutes perpetrators of document fraud and other recruitment shenanigans.

In a brief ceremony at New Zealand’s Parliament House, known as the “Beehive”, Baldoz and Minister Woodhouse signed the “Arrangement on the Principles and Controls on the Recruitment and Protection of Filipino Workers in New Zealand”, in the presence of Philippine Ambassador to New Zealand Virginia Benavidez, who was instrumental in hammering out the agreement, and top officials of New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE).

Baldoz, who was on an official mission to New Zealand, was joined by her top officials at the DOLE, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and Labor Attache to Asutralia and New Zealand Atty. Rodolfo Sabulao.

“This is a very historic and a very significant occasion,” said Baldoz during the signing. “This landmark document will govern the smooth deployment of skilled and professional overseas Filipino workers to New Zealand and ensure their welfare and protection while working in this country,” she added.

Baldoz, who expressed appreciation for the warmth hosting by Minister Woodhouse of her official visit, said the agreement carries on the spirit of the “Memorandum of Agreement on Labor Cooperation between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Government of New Zealand” which the two countries signed on 4 November 2008.

She said the new agreement will certainly boost and enhance the economic and socio-cultural ties between the Philippines and New Zealand, explaining that the agreement eliminates high placement fees and document fraud that have been the bane for workers intending to work in New Zealand.

“Two countries working together to eliminate costly job placement and other recruitment-related fees, illegal recruitment and human trafficking, document fraud and fake training and qualifications credentials will make a strong case for a model bilateral arrangement for other sending and receiving countries to emulate,” she said.

“I am very confident this agreement will redound to the mutual benefit and development of our two countries,” she added, acknowledging that New Zealand treats migrant workers no different than it treats its own workers, affording them strong welfare and protection in accordance with international standards.

“I have no worries about OFWs in New Zealand. With the country’s strong labor laws and welfare and protection standards, OFWs wanting to work in New Zealand are definitely well-protected,” she further explained.

During her meeting with Minister Woodhouse, Baldoz reiterated that with the agreement, the Philippines and New Zealand is provided the opportunity to deal strongly with unscrupulous illegal recruiters and human traffickers who may take advantage of the vulnerabilities of OFWs.

“We must work together to weed out illegal recruiters who exact illegal recruitment fees and other exactions from OFW applicants to New Zealand and see to it that our no-placement fee policy for the New Zealand labor market is strongly and effectively enforced.

As a result of the agreement, Baldoz said the DOLE will soon open a POLO office at the Philippine Embassy in Wellington, and instructed the ILAB, POEA, and the OWWA to already work out the arrangements with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

On his part, Minister Woodhouse expressed appreciation for Secretary Baldoz’s official visit to New Zealand. He expressed glowingly about Filipino workers and their contribution to the New Zealand economy, particularly to the dairy and agriculture, hospitality, health, and education sectors, as well as to the rebuilding and recovery of Christchurch in the South Island which has been devastated by the 6.3 magnitude earthquake of February 21, 2011.

The newly-signed agreement spells out the areas of cooperation between the Philippines and New Zealand, particularly in the regulation of the deployment of OFWs. Under the agreement, the two countries committed to work together in the promotion of compliance with recruitment, employment, and immigration laws of both countries through a targeted program of action, such as the audit of sectors where OFWs are engaged in.

“We are committed to ensure that OFWs are recruited and employed in New Zealand in a manner that is ethical, effective, efficient, and transparent,” the two top labor and employment officials said.

Baldoz emphasized that the two countries can benefit more from the agreement through close and regular sharing and exchange of information to ensure that both OFWs and New Zealand employers understand their rights and obligations and the relevant employment and immigration laws and rules and regulations of the two countries; and ensuring that any fees charged OFWs, and any deductions from their wages comply with the employment and immigration laws of the Philippines and New Zealand.

The new agreement also details the cooperation priorities of the two countries, such as promoting transparent, ethical, and equitable recruitment and employment practices consistent with the Philippine Labor Code, as amended; R.A. 8042 as amended by R.A. 10022; POEA Rules and Regulations; and the New Zealand Immigration Act 2009, Employment Relations Act 2000, Holidays Act 2003, Equal Pay Act 1972, Minimum Wage Act 1983, and Wages Protection Act 1983.

Other cooperation priorities include the enforcement of laws and regulations on non-payment of recruitment and placement fees by OFWs; ensuring that the terms and conditions offered OFWs reflect their actual terms and conditions in New Zealand; ensuring that OFWs are made aware of their immigration and employment rights in New Zealand; facilitating linkages between employers and recruitment agencies; and ensuring assistance in the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation, and detection of offenses in either the Philippines and New Zealand.

Baldoz was accompanied during her official visit by Labor Attache Rodolfo Sabulao of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Canberra, Australia, whose jurisdiction includes New Zealand; OIC-designate Undersecretary Nicon F. Fameronag; POEA Administrator Hans Leo J. Cacdac; OWWA Administrator Rebecca Calzado; and ILAB Director Saul de Vries.

Also attending the signing ceremony and the meeting with Minister Woodhouse were Michael Hobby, Acting Manager of International Strategy; George Mason, General Manager, Labour Inspectorate; Steve Watson, Manager, Business and Operations Support, Labour Inspectorate, all of the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment.

There are close to 40,000 Filipinos in New Zealand, 23,682 of whom are permanent migrants, 9,444 temporary workers, and 1,024 irregular workers. The POEA has recorded an increasing deployment of OFWs to New Zealand, with 1,638 new hires deployed in 2014. OFWs in New Zealand are mostly production workers (66 percent); agriculture and animal husbandry workers (17 percent); professionals (4 percent); administrative and managerial workers (5 percent); service workers (5 percent), and the rest are either sales or clerical workers.

Based on New Zealand Immigration data, about 50 to 55 percent of workers participating in the rebuilding of Christchurch are OFWs. (PNA)