Labor execs stick to skills as OFW protector

by PATRICIA MARCELO
www.ofwjournalism.net


MANDALUYONG CITY—THE light-brown beef stew simmering on a pot in a makeshift kitchen here may save Jennifer Dul-loog’s life as a household service worker in Spain. So the 29-year-old prospective overseas Filipino worker and government officials hope.

Dul-loog, who would leave for work abroad for the first time, is one of thousands of applicants for domestic work overseas that underwent training on housekeeping and must prove to government overseas employment workers she’s acquired required skills.

According to Philippine Overseas Employment Administration head Rosalinda Baldoz possession of such skills by Filipino workers abroad is their best protection from any abuse or maltreatment.

“That’s the direction [where] we are now going, even [for] the low-skilled workers. We’re making them skilled (workers) so that there will be no more distinction,” Baldoz told the OFW Journalism Consortium.

Dul-loog is among the first batch of prospective OFWs who underwent this process that is part of the so-called “Reform Package for HSWs” new program that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) began implementing last year. The program was applied to newly-hired household service workers beginning December 2006 and for returning domestic workers in March this year.

As the program required, prospective foreign domestic workers –now called HSWs– like Dul-loog had to undergo housekeeping training in a center accredited by the government’s Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Graduates of these centers are awarded a National Certificate for HSWs after passing a two-day review and examination administered by POEA employees.

Labor Secretary Arturo Brion said they crafted the program to uplift the status of Filipino domestic helpers, some of who become victims of maltreatment and abuse.

Securing the NCII is an added protection to the interest and welfare of the workers, Brion explained, as this would attest to their skills qualification, in addition to a country specific language and culture orientation course.

The program, however, also adds to the OFW’s spending. Prospective domestic workers have to pay at least P1,600 (roughly US$35) to the accredited training center for the review and actual demonstration of what they have learned in the training.

As such, the additional cost was cited as one reason for the declining number of domestic workers deployed overseas.


Clean-up

WITH THE implementation of the new policy for the HSWs, data from the POEA showed a significant decline in the number of household and related workers. The POEA is the state-run agency that processes Filipinos for work abroad.

While domestic helpers remained as the top occupational group being deployed abroad, the number of new hires from January to May this year dropped by 62.9 percent to 16,957 as against 45,714 deployed in the same period last year.

Other occupational groups whose deployment declined were factory and related workers: 17,635 from January to May last year to 15,775 during the first five months of this year. Caregivers and caretakers also posted declines, from 6,809 to 2,878, as well as building caretakers and related workers (6,063 to 3,188); dressmakers, tailors and related workers (3,625 to 1,753); and, overseas performing artists (3,400 to 1,455).

Meanwhile, occupational groups whose deployment abroad for new-hires rose from January to May included construction workers, from 10,332 to 16,915 (63.7 percent increase). Deployment abroad of the hotel and restaurant related workers also increased from 4,046 to 5,876; and medical and related workers, from 4,477 in the first five months of last year to 4,698 in the same period this year.

As a whole, the deployment of newly-hired OFWs plunged by 33.1 percent to 86,978 from January to May this year from 130,019 during the same period last year.

Traditional labor markets for OFWs, particularly domestic workers, also recorded falling numbers in migrant workers from the Philippines.

Deployment in Saudi Arabia, the number one destination for OFWS, decreased by 9.5 percent to 32,057 from 35,421; United Arab Emirates, from 16,067 to 12,761; Qatar, from 10,847 to 8,587; Taiwan, from 14,729 to 7,405; Kuwait, from 12,351 to 5,631; Hong Kong, from 9,094 to 4,744; South Korea, from 6,077 to 1,516; Bahrain, from 2,125 to 1,500; and Japan, from 3,311 to 1,371.

Of these top country-destinations of newly hired land-based OFWs, only Canada posted a surge, by 40.4 percent to 1,445 from January to May this year from 1,029 during the same period a year ago.


Re-form

BALDOZ SAID the decline in the deployment of OFWs was expected.

“[The package of reforms involving the HSWs is] one of the major reasons,” she said.

Still, Baldoz said another factor contributing to the drop is the government ban on deployment to some countries like Nigeria and Lebanon.

She added that the number of the HSWs would continue to decline as this type of workers is expected to acquire more skills.

She noted that previously the ratio of skilled and unskilled OFWs was 60 to 40. But now, it is 73 to 27 in favor of the skilled workers. The POEA hopes to further increase the ratio in favor of the skilled, she added.

“It will be the trend, slowly they will move to non-household works,” she said adding that some of them could be employed to hotels and restaurants doing practically the same work.

Another factor for the decline, noted Brion, is the deployed household workers’ low monthly salary, which remained at US$200 for the past two decades. In a strong-peso regime, this minimum wage rate only amounts to less than P10,000.

The DOLE has increased the entry-level minimum monthly salary of the entire household workers deployed overseas to US$400.

Despite the decline in the number of newly-hired land-based workers, Baldoz noted that preliminary data of the POEA showed that for the first half of the year, the deployment of OFWs, both rehires and new hires land- and sea-based, has already surpassed the DOLE’s target for the period.

POEA data showed that from January to June, there were 546,212 workers deployed abroad, down by 5.1 percent from 575,388 recorded during the same period last year.

Baldoz said despite the decline, the deployment of the OFWs during the first semester was already 54.6 percent of the one million-target deployment for the whole year.

Meanwhile, while the training could upgrade the skills of the Filipino workers, Grace Javier, 44, who was bound for Italy suggested changes on Tesda’s lesson, citing she’s being taught to cook only beef stew when there are other dishes she needs to know.

“Do you think my employers would ask me to cook beef stew?” said the second-timer OFW.

“And I don’t think the machines I will be using in Italy are the same as the ones we used during the training,” Javier added.
Baldoz agreed that Tesda should look into such complaint.

“Maybe we can bring that up to the attention of Tesda. The training should be market specific or market-tailored fit,” she said.


OFW Journalism Consortium