By Susan V. Ople
Labor attaches and welfare attaches from all over the world gathered for a year-end assessment and planning conference last December at the Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay City. Former dean of the Asian Institute of Management and labor secretary Nieves Confesor and Professor Ponch Macaranas served as facilitators of the two-day event.
With the permission of Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz and the conference facilitators, I felt privileged to be able to “sit in” as an observer. Foremost among labor matters discussed was for on how to deliver better service and protection to Filipino household service workers all over the world. The hardworking labor secretary has made it her personal advocacy to ensure that Filipino domestic workers are paid no less than US$400 a month, a salary that must be recognized by the host government through bilateral labor agreements.
When Atty. Gwen Pimentel-Gana, Roderick Marcelino and I interviewed Secretary Baldoz on our public service radio show, “Bantay OFW” at DZXL RMN, she made it clear that the administration’s policy is for quality employment especially in relation to our domestic workers. This is a distinct change from the days when overseas jobs were meticulously courted and counted to make up for the long-running slack in local jobs.
A majority of licensed recruitment agencies have long been ignoring the US$400 minimum salary rule for Filipino domestic workers. It’s not realistic, they say. The more cynical ones question the wisdom in pegging the salary of household workers so high when other nationalities are willing to go lower than that.
On this issue, I agree wholeheartedly with the labor secretary. It is time we start slowly moving out of the global domestic workers’ market. Unless we make that as our collective goal, then the welfare cases involving Filipino women working for households in the Middle East and elsewhere shall continue to pile up. Licensed agencies would have to recognize and accept this paradigm shift as a matter of national conscience and pride.
This is not to belittle the service and honorable work of our Filipino domestic workers. The gradual phase-out as envisioned by the labor department is part of a two-tiered process that also includes providing our women workers with better skills that would warrant the safety of an office or commercial space. Household workers here and across the globe are vulnerable because no one can hear them scream when abused within the four corners of a private home.
During a workshop session about innovation, a group of labor attaches recommended as a potential project a unified OFW all-in-one transaction card under a “Bilis OFW Secured System” or “B.O.S.S”. It turned out that an inter-agency committee chaired by no less than Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa is already studying this matter.
Talks about paperless transactions led to a thorough and more grounded discussion about streamlining all forms and procedures involving the processing of OFW contracts and memberships in Pag-IBIG, PhilHealth, the SSS, and OWWA.
Undersecretary Danny Cruz, highly respected and revered at DoLE, instructed the labor attaches and welfare officers to review all forms and requirements that every overseas worker needs to fill up and/or submit. He remarked that some of the forms are quite lengthy and repetitive.
A firm commitment was made by all who attended the DoLE conference to fast track the approval and printing of the “Manual of Operations, Policies and Guidelines for the POLOs”. POLOs refer to the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices that have the primary responsibility of looking after labor concerns of overseas Filipino workers.
Surprisingly, the manual has been a work in progress for the past 10 years. The labor chief committed to approve the manual of operations for all labor attaches within the month. “This draft manual embodies all your experiences in the field,” she stressed, adding that the manual shall ensure that all posts are on the same page when it comes to labor policies, principles, and procedures.
The conference was aptly entitled, “One DOLE, One Vision: Strategic Approaches Towards POLO Readiness for Global Transformation.” To set the tone of the conference, former labor secretary Nieves Confesor shared a case study involving the transformation of Singapore’s public libraries into hubs of learning and social interaction. She also introduced the concept of “customer’s delight,” which is a more trendy and innovative approach to customer service.
Towards the end of the conference, Undersecretary Lourdes Trasmonte delivered a moving farewell speech to mark her retirement from public service. Undersecretary Trasmonte went through the full cycle of working as regional director, then as labor attache, before her promotion as labor undersecretary. Labor Attache Bernie Julve assigned to Vancouver, Canada was also recognized for 25 years of uninterrupted service at the DoLE. He actually surpassed that mark because he was also among those who served the labor department during the time of Ka Blas Ople.
Those who have previously worked at the labor department (this writer included) will always consider those years as a badge of honor. Certainly, the DOLE family under Secretary Baldoz deserves kudos for its unified approach to public service. (Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)