MAY 1, 2014, which is Labor Day, marks the 40th anniversary of the Philippine overseas labor program. It provides the entire country an opportunity to look back at the beginnings of this program that was really meant as a stopgap measure during the Marcos era.
Surprisingly, the institutions created during the time of my father, then Labor Secretary Blas F. Ople, remain relevant and viable four decades hence. His vision has remained true and relevant, providing other labor-sending countries a model to follow.
What are these institutions? The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration or the POEA is in charge of regulating licensed recruitment agencies, foreign employers, and overseas job applicants — thus, ensuring an organized, fair, and transparent process for the deployment of Filipino workers to every nook and corner of the world. Migration is fraught with social costs and so the mandate to look after the welfare of overseas Filipino workers fall upon the very broad shoulders of the member-based Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA). What if his or her foreign employer did not pay the overseas worker according to contract? Where can the worker seek financial justice? The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) is the agency tasked with helping aggrieved workers run after money claims against their local agency and foreign employers.
These are institutions, brick and mortar, whose doors should be both open and inviting to all overseas Filipino workers in search for answers. Given the complex situations confronting their respective clientele, the leaders of these institutions must be quick on their toes, in perpetual search for innovation, using modern technology to connect people with services and information.
The New Year provides every government institution involved in the Philippine overseas employment program a renaissance in public service. Why not have an amazing race among said offices on who could deliver more and better programs and services for our modern-day heroes in 2014? The Department of Foreign Affairs including all its foreign posts deserves to be in this mythical race. In fact, shouldn’t they be leading it? Under the one-country team approach provision of the Migrant Workers’ Act, all embassies and consulates are required to serve as a team with no less than the head of mission as its captain.
Unfortunately, not much is going on in the innovation side of things when you take a careful look at how these institutions have evolved. Many of our overseas workers have taken to social media to immerse themselves in peer conversations to the exclusion of government personnel and officials. This was so true during the beginnings of the Nitaqat program when a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Saudi Arabia known as Patnubay had to spearhead its own Facebook page to guide Filipino workers in understanding the ratings program. The Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah did catch up, but their social media efforts were quite late, and a bit tepid.
Filipino workers repatriated from Saudi Arabia don’t even know the exact programs and services that they could avail of once home from the Middle East. This is an affront to their years of being away, to years of enormous difficulty to provide food and basic necessities for their families. I believe that there is sufficient justification on the moral, economic, and social grounds for a simultaneous combustion of services and programs to benefit our overseas Filipino workers. Why the stinginess in serving a sector that has proven its worth over and over again in very precise, measurable economic gains?
POEA Administrator Hans Cacdac may yet take the ribbon for innovation when a new smartphone application that would enable an overseas job applicant to verify the legitimacy of a recruitment agency and its job orders is launched. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that other agencies such as OWWA, NLRC, and the labor department’s National Reintegration Center for OFWs find the inspiration to innovate, and launch new initiatives to help our migrant workers. Innovation is its own reward. New programs signify an earnest and caring leadership, and hope for the future.
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