Philippine Gov't in Bind over Migration

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 11/12/2007 12:09:00 AM
The Philippines is well-known as a human capital exporter par excellence. Last year, it deployed over a million workers overseas to work in practically all ends of the earth. The astonishing scale of Philippine economic migration invites controversy from all sides. The government is happy as it helps meet balance-of-payments obligations in a country where aid, FDI and portfolio investment flows are not that large. On the other hand, NGOs have long been concerned about overseas workers being subject to abuse since the Philippines has very limited political-economic clout to demand justice when such incidences occur. NGOs also charge that dependence on overseas worker remittances prevents the country from finding ways to promote local industrial development like its neighbors have. Still, many believe that, given its limited resources, the Philippine government has done a reasonable job of balancing the desire of many nationals to earn a better livelihood abroad while providing adequate social protection for overseas workers. (The Migration Policy Insitute has a pretty good overview of Philippine migration if you're interested.)

The story at hand concerns the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA). It oversees the licensing of recruitment agencies that offer placements for Filipinos seeking work abroad. What has happened is that, recently, recruitment agencies have taken umbrage to the POEA taking on the role of recruiting workers for overseas placements. Traditionally, the POEA has taken a largely regulatory and not a participatory role in recruitment. International Labor Organization (ILO) best practices include a stipulation that recruitment fees should not be charged by recruitment agencies, though they are widely charged in the Philippines depending on the attractiveness of the placement destination. The POEA is not only trying to recruit nowadays for jobs in the booming Middle East and elsewhere, but it is also undercutting the fees charged by recruiters. Hence, the industry group Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Incorporated (PASEI) is complaining that the government is unfairly muscling in on its business. Alfredo Rosario of the Manila Times offers his take on the matter, saying that with overseas labor demand so high, there is really no need to quarrel:

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) drew flak the other day from a powerful group of fee charging private recruitment agencies for its continuing job marketing missions. The Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. (Pasei), which is composed of 700 placement firms, excoriated the POEA for invading its “domain.”

“It’s predatory and totally unfair,” cried Pasei president Victor Fernandez, accusing the POEA of being the administrator of the government’s overseas employment program and at the same time a competitor of an estimated 1,500 recruitment agencies in the country.

The latest POEA initiative, which was protested by Pasei, is its ongoing talks with the government of the United Arab Emirates to fill its labor requirements, particularly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, with Filipino workers under a government-to-government arrangement.

Unless stopped, Fernandez said, the POEA’s “incursions” will continue into other countries experiencing a construction and business boom, such as Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen.

The POEA has a government-to-government arrangement with South Korea through the Employment Permits System (EPS) under which POEA supplies Filipino workers for its labor needs. The POEA has a similar pending arrangement with Japan under the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa), which is under scrutiny by the Senate.

Is the Pasei right in stopping the POEA from its marketing missions? Does the government agency intrude in the business of private recruitment agencies?

To its credit, the POEA, chaired by Labor Secretary Arturo Brion, has done South Korea-bound Filipino workers a lot of good by saving them from paying excessive placement fees to private recruiters.

Heretofore, a Filipino worker was charged by private recruiters as high as P120,000 for a factory job in South Korea. But under the EPS, he is charged by POEA only about P20,000, representing administrative fees and the cost of a plane ticket to Korea.

If for this alone, the POEA’s search for jobs in other countries under a government-to-government arrangement should be encouraged rather than curtailed. Thousands of Filipino workers will benefit from it in terms of savings in placement fees. What the POEA collects are reasonable administrative and transportation costs.

The history of the government’s organized overseas employment can be traced to the adoption of the Philippine Labor Code in 1974 under the leadership of the late statesman Blas F. Ople in his capacity as labor secretary.

It was Ople who put up the administrative infrastructure for carrying out the overseas employment program. These are the POEA, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Labor Attaché Corps.

Originally, the Labor Code contained a provision calling for the phaseout of fee-charging recruitment agencies after five years from its effectivity. But after a couple of years from its implementation, a study showed that the government alone did not have the capability to meet the targeted high volume of jobs for Filipino workers.

Compared with the performance of the private placement firms, that of the government was embarrassingly dismal. Without the participation of the private placement firms, the country could not have provided enough jobs for Filipino workers in the scale that exists today.

That finding impelled Ople to remove that part for the phaseout of private recruitment agencies. He was convinced that the overseas employment program should be a joint effort of government and the private sector.

The government-private sector partnership provides a multi­armed recruitment machine that has given jobs to millions of Filipino workers. This in turn has generated foreign exchange remittances to the Philippines estimated last year at $14 billion, representing the earnings of an estimated eight million OFWs, enhancing the national economy.

The Philippines has barely tapped the unlimited potential of the foreign labor market. As more and more countries graduate into tiger economies, they will need workers to man their factories. South Korea is a classic example. A few years ago, Korean workers were competing with our own in finding overseas jobs in the Middle East.

Today, as a developed econo­my, South Korea is importing foreign workers from different countries, including the Philippines. Many other labor-short countries and regions—the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and Asia, particularly Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan—have registered a high demand for foreign workers.

The Labor Code does not preclude the POEA from seeking jobs for Filipino workers. In fact, it originally intended to place entirely in government hands the task of finding foreign jobs for Filipino workers until it realized it needed the private sector to run a harmonized, productive and effective overseas employment program.

There are enough foreign job orders for companies engaged in foreign job recruitment. All they need to do is work hard enough.