The government and the private sector both agreed that the proposed creation of the Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFWs) though necessary was untimely.
“Why fix it if ain’t broke?” Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Special Adviser Marianito Roque said during a joint webinar over the weekend by the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute.
Roque, a former Labor secretary, explained that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in lesser job opportunities hence, it would be best not to touch the present structure but instead strengthen and support it until the whole situation has improved.
“But for the time that all we see are receding employment opportunities and very selective jobs that are available overseas, it might be safer to maintain the present structure and put more support and emphasis for the protection of workers,” he added.
Philippine Association of Service Exporters Inc. President Raquel Bracero said because of stiff competition for the meager available jobs overseas, foreign employers now prefer workers who are willing to accept huge cuts on salaries.
“So, I think the creation of the DOFWs should not be done at this time because it might only create more confusion,” Bracero said.
What should be done, she suggested, is to make use of existing laws and the budget for the proposed DOFWs to enhance the services of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the various Philippine overseas labor offices by hiring additional personnel.
Roque, for her part, stressed the need to reexamine overseas employment and migration programs, and come up with strategies on how to remain competitive.
Meanwhile, Overseas Welfare Administration (OWWA) Director Josephine Hapal said that as part of the executive branch, OWWA is supportive of the creation of DOFWs whose sole focus would be the needs and protection of OFWs.
She stressed that the OWWA trust fund should remain a private trust fund dedicated to the welfare of OFWs.
Ople Center head Susan Ople said the government needs an urgent review on existing grievance mechanisms for exploited migrant workers, stressing that the proposed DOFWs should have a clear mandate to make use of the laws of other countries and relevant international agreements to hold abusive foreign employers and foreign recruitment agencies accountable for exploiting OFWs.
A 2021 research study commissioned by the Ople Center with funding from the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery in partnership with the International Organization for Migration-Philippines showed that the profile of OFWs in recent years reveals increased vulnerability, especially the newly-hired or first-time migrant workers recruited for lower-skilled jobs.
The proposed creation of the DOFWs is still being deliberated in the Senate. – By William Depasupil