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Qatar vows to promote OFW rights and welfare

Amid the rising number of problems raised by migrant workers there, officials of Qatar’s human rights body visited the Philippines to assure overseas Filipino workers (OFW) that the Middle East country is stepping up efforts to safeguard their welfare.

In a round-table discussion Friday, an official of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) said they have been touring countries sending their labor force to Qatar to explain available remedies in cases of labor-related problems of migrant workers.

“Most workers don’t know there are bodies in Qatar that will accept their complaints,” said Fahed Ahmed Al-Muhammad, head of the NHRC’s legal department, saying the committee was created to protect and promote human rights in the country including those of migrant workers.

According to the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), the Philippine Embassy and the labor office in Qatar recorded some 1,800 cases of distressed OFWs, about 460 cases of runaway workers, and over 800 repatriated Filipinos during the first semester of 2008.

Al-Muhammad added they have recorded more than 1,200 complaints from migrant workers of all nationalities in 2009.

Standard contract in Qatar

During the discussion, a former Qatar worker now in the Philippines said he had Filipino friends who complained they were given salaries lower than indicated on their contracts.

A woman likewise complained her husband was deployed as a carpenter but was instead assigned as a steel fixer — a more difficult job — when he got to Qatar.

His salary remained the same, however, the woman added.

Others meanwhile said there were reports of workers being made to work for longer hours, or sent to Qatar only to find out the projects were non-existent.

Al-Muhammad thus scored the need for both Filipino workers and agencies to ensure that they sign and process only the standard contract accepted in Qatar.

“There is a standard employment contract in Qatar, and the embassies are given copies of this,” he explained.

Even those processed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) are thus sometimes not accepted in Qatar if they are different from the country’s standard contract, he said.

One problem with the Qatari labor code, Al-Muhammad added, is that it does not cover migrant domestic workers as they are not classified as workers in Qatar.

He also expressed hope that the bilateral labor agreement initiated by the Qatari government, which is expected to better protect migrant workers, will soon be signed by the Philippine government.

Protection of migrant workers

Al-Muhammad nevertheless said his country has made gains toward improving the lot of migrant workers there.

One example is that labor courts in Qatar almost always rule in favor of the workers in cases of disputes.

“100 percent of the cases heard in courts are resolved in favor of the workers, especially if the workers’ complaints are well justified,” he said.

He cautioned, however, that Qatari courts have recently noted that some migrant workers use court cases as a means to prolong their stay in the country while looking for another job.

The Qatari labor code provides mechanisms for workers to seek resolution to their concerns even while in the country, added CMA executive director Ellene Sana.

“Workers don’t need to come home immediately if they have complaints, as these can be filed before the Qatari labor office and the NHRC,” she explained.

Qatar-RP labor relations

Participants in the discussion, which included representatives from Solidarity Center, Migrant Forum Asia, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Commission on Human Rights and recruitment agencies, also gave suggestions to enhance labor relations between Qatar and the Philippines.

One suggestion is to beef up the labor office there, which currently has only four employees serving about 200,000 migrant Filipinos.

Another is to deploy a human rights attaché in all Philippine posts around the world.

The OWWA was also urged to improve the Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar it gives to outbound workers, to include their families as participants and former OFWs as speakers.

Records from the POEA show Qatar ranks fourth among the top destinations of land-based OFW, with almost 90,000 OFWs deployed there in 2009.

Of the figure, over 6,000 work as household service workers.

In 2009, OFWs in Qatar sent home over $180 million in remittances, which is an increase of over 700 percent from just $25 million in 2003.—JV, GMANews.TV



Filed under: Kwentong OFW, OFW Corner,

Contract substitution hit

MANILA – A militant migrant workers group accused the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) for tolerating contract substitution, saying it has connived with recruitment agencies on the unfair practice.

Migrante Middle East Regional Coordinator John Monterona said around 30 to 50 percent of abuse cases on migrant Filipino workers are rooted to contract substitution as it received a daily average of seven to 10 reports of abuse.

Under contract substitution, Filipinos who wish to renew their contracts were usually given much lower salaries and benefits than the first contract, Monterona said.

“The other benefits are either deleted or reduced, for example the health insurance provision had been removed, or the hours of work had been extended,” he pointed out, adding that reluctant workers are forced to sign the contract or face joblessness after.

“Many have told us that they have been forced to sign a new set of contracts before their departure at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, while others said upon their arrival on the job site facilitated by the counterpart agency of the deploying agency in the Philippines,” Monterona said.

The group also accused some officials in Dole and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) of conniving with recruitment agencies that allow contract substitution. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)

Filed under: Kwentong OFW, OFW Corner,

DoLE launches another program for OFWs

The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) recently launched a program that ensures the efficient delivery of the social protection services to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Dubbed ‘Kabayanihan,’ the program will be implemented in partnership with the Social Security System
(SSS), Philhealth, Pag-ibig, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said ‘Kabayanihan,’ a one-stop-shop that will be set up at the Philippines Overseas Labor Offices (POLO), uses a ‘bundling approach’ membership and services.

“This means that all government welfare services, social insurance, savings and investment, housing, loans and scholarship benefits to OFWs and their families, among others are unified to make it more accessible, convenient and affordable for the OFWs,’’ said Roque.

“Registration and transaction procedures are also expected to be simplified under the program,’’ said Roque.



Filed under: Government, Kwentong OFW, OFW Corner,

DepEd supports teachers’ adjusted salary

The Department of Education (DepEd) expressed its support to the immediate release of the adjusted salary of teachers that would further assure the upgrading of the quality of education in public schools.

Education Secretary Mona Valisno said that a set of urgent concerns will be presented to the next administration, top among which is the salary adjustment of teachers.

“I will be former secretary by July 1. But the team at DepEd will bridge with President Noynoy our concerns as he committed that education will be a priority in his administration,” said Valisno.

Earlier this week, an association of public school teachers nationwide pressed DepEd for the prompt implementation of the salary adjustment of teachers under the Salary Standardization Law III (SSL3) approved by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in June last year.

Valisno revealed that the Department will make representations with teachers on SSL III through DepEd’s agency transition officials including Legal Affairs Undersecretary Franklin Sunga, Undersecretary for Finance Manaros Bonansing, and Assistant Secretary Special Projects and Legislative Affairs Jonathan Malaya.

By Ina Hernandez- Malipot/Manila Bulletin

Filed under: Department of Education, Education,

UK to impose temporary cap on migrants

LONDON – A newspaper is reporting that Britain’s new government intends to impose a temporary limit on the number of foreign workers from outside the European Union it allows into the country.

The Times said Home Secretary Theresa May will announce a maximum of 24,100 workers from outside the EU will receive permission to enter Britain between now and April 2011, when new immigration rules go into effect.

The Home Office had no comment on Saturday’s report, which said 54,500 economic migrants from outside the EU came to Britain last year.

Earlier this week, immigration minister Damian Green said the government planned to reduce migration levels back to 1990s levels — “to tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands.” —AP


Filed under: Pinoy Migration,

Key Labor Challenges

Facing the Aquino  Administration

The Aquino Administration shall be inheriting from the Arroyo Administration  complex  and numerous labor problems.  These include, among others, the following  –

  • Labor market:      over three million unemployed, six million underemployed (but over 14 million estimated to be working at less than 40 hours a week), large  informal economy (estimates range from 45 to 77 per cent of the labor  force), one million plus annual labor entrants, eroding capacity of domestic industry and agriculture to generate jobs, expanding service sector but with limited capacity to create well-paid jobs (except in a narrow call center/BPO sub-sector);
  • Migration:    diaspora of close to ten million Filipinos (immigrants, temporaries and undocumented) dividing families and the nation, high dependence of the economy on remittances (now roughly $1.5 billion a month), high rate of deployment taxing the processing capacity of POEA to the limits (over a million a year), endless sad OFW stories on abuses and contract violations in various climes;
  • Industrial relations system:     dramatic decline in the number of strikes paralleled by a dramatic decline in the number of unions and collective bargaining agreements, rampant outsourcing of jobs to avoid labor and social security obligations, polarized positions of labor and industry on outsourcing and labor reforms, perennial delays in case disposition in the NLRC, quality of decisions generally weak; and
  • Skills/education of the work force:    declining competitiveness of the country due to eroded or eroding educational and skills readiness of the work force, fund   misuse in TESDA documented by COA, industry not investing enough on skills development (and relying instead on replaceable short-term labor for competitiveness), and weaknesses in national skills anticipation  and job-skills matching.

On top of the foregoing, the country is facing labor-related concerns such as high urban-rural migration due to job weaknesses in the agricultural sector compounded by risks and disasters associated with climate change (resulting in the rise of “climate change refugees”).

Most of the above problems can not be solved overnight.

However, the Aquino Administration should be able to show that

  • it has a full understanding of these  manifold labor problems,
  • it has the strategic development perspective on how these problems should be tackled, and
  • it has the fortitude and willingness to buckle down to work, on day one, as it tries to address these problems under a Team Aquino.

An energized labor administration machinery is central in the fulfillment of the above tasks.   The incoming Administration should be able to drill in the mind of every DOLE man and woman that each has a historic task to perform in support of the Aquino Administration’s platform of employment, industrial relations and social reforms.  In broad strokes, this platform should include the following:

  • Labor market:     While job creation is the task of the entire government (with DTI, DA and other agencies seen as job creation leaders),  DOLE has the task of helping in the labor market facilitation business.  This means assisting LGUs in upgrading the PESOs, propagating and documenting good PESO practices in job-skills matching and skills enhancement, etc., and improving its  own Phil-JobNet.  It should do a job-skills map of the country, complete with the identification of measures on how to help out-of-school youth, unemployed educated, handicapped and other disadvantaged workers become productive and active members of the labor market.  It should also get involved in strategizing offensive (job-creating) and defensive (job-preserving) measures under globalization, including adjustment measures  under varied bilateral, regional and multilateral agreements, for the specific purpose of preserving and creating more and better jobs.  With the technical assistance of the ILO and in cooperation with other agencies such as DWSD and DOH, DOLE should find ways to promote or create jobs for the long-term unemployed and develop a program of “social protection for all”.
  • Migration: Aside from strengthening the existing machinery on OFW deployment (POEA) and protection (OWWA, bilateral agreements, anti-illegal-recruitment campaign, overseas RP missions, etc.), DOLE should push for an honest-to-goodness review and updating of the 1995 Migrant Workers Law (not just a program of insuring the insurers!).  One key issue is OFW policy clarification.  Instead of the old policy declaration that migration is a short-term stop-gap employment program (from Marcos to Estrada) or the more nuanced policy declaration under GMA that “migration is a choice”, the Aquino Administration should state forthrightly that migration is a central reality in the Philippine economy and society today and that the State policy on migration is guided by three intertwining guiding principles – extension of maximum protection to life and dignity to every Filipino migrant and family, assistance to Filipino migrants in their individual and collective search for life fulfillment and empowerment such as organizing for their own protection and advancement and investing on the well being of family and community in the home land, and enlisting  the participation of the global community of Filipino migrants in building a  balanced, equitable and prosperous Philippine economy in order to make working and living in the home country a first choice for every Filipino.

  • Industrial relations system:  DOLE, under Article V (rule-making) of the Labor Code, should move more vigorously for the empowerment of workers by recognizing and strengthening organizations of all types and categories of workers for various collective purposes (e.g., collective bargaining, common guild/skills interests, etc.) in order to implement the Constitutional mandate that all workers, in the formal and informal sectors, should enjoy the right to self-organization.  It should also help end the long-running debate on outsourcing (liberalization per demand by some business groups and criminalization as espoused by many trade union groups).  How?  By insisting that outsourcing, while legitimate when undertaken for legitimate business exigencies, should not be  abetted when done to avoid the labor and social security obligations of business, which is a narrow and short-sighted way of building up competitiveness.  The system of dispute settlement should also be reformed not only to fast-track case settlement but also to improve the quality of decisions.  On the other hand, DOLE should re-launch the campaign for proactive labor relations programs at the  plant/company level and should ask non-unionized firms to set up grievance machinery and employee consultation mechanisms.  The bipartite, tripartite and even multipartite systems of dialogue and consultation at various levels (national, regional, industry, etc.) should also be maintained and strengthened and should cover broader social development concerns such as social partnership in support of job  preservation and job creation.   For the reality is that a lot has to be done to promote better adjustment measures necessary to insure the preservation and creation of industries and decent jobs, e.g., adoption of winning  adjustment programs, more employee-employer dialogues on appropriate adjustment measures.On legislated labor reforms, this should be pursued but more in the context of the need for positive labor or industrial relations transformation, that is, how  to make  such transformation a source of competitiveness and a guarantee for the increased welfare of workers  and other sectors.  There should also be reforms to strengthen   institutions of workers’ representation,  collective bargaining, conciliation, mediation, labor-management cooperation and voluntary modes of dispute settlement.  The point is that the Philippines can become more competitive as a nation if it strengthens, not downgrades, institutions of industrial democracy.
  • Skills/education of the work force:   The declining competitiveness of the country due to eroding educational and skills readiness of the work force should be arrested through reforms in TESDA by making its operations transparent and its programs not only industry-focused but also community-oriented and anticipatory of changes in the labor market.  There should be a greater enhancement of the trifocal or convergence administration of the educational/skills system involving CHED, DepEd and TESDA.
  • Internal migration/climate change: DOLE should support inter-agency efforts in addressing poverty and development issues arising from the rapid urbanization of the country, continuous rural-to-urban migration, expansion of urban and rural poor communities with limited facilities and increasing risks and disasters arising from climate change and environmental degradation.  All these have labor and employment dimensions.  One area where DOLE can play a major role is in the promotion of greener businesses and greener jobs in the context of a green development program meant to combat threats of climate change.  A greening or renewal of communities nationwide to make them resilient to climate change means creation  of millions of jobs through labor-intensive community-based infrastructure projects such as flood controls, river/estero dredging, housing upgrades, pathways construction, building of community centers, etc.

Conclusion. To reiterate, the Aquino Administration is inheriting a host of daunting labor and employment problems.   However, formidable as they may seem, they can and should be overcome  – not overnight – but through a clearer vision of development, an energized bureaucracy and a firm leadership under Team Aquino.

By Prof. Rene Ofreneo, UP SOLAIR


Filed under: Government,

Bicol bloc urges poll body to proclaim Ako Bicol immediately

By Rhaydz B. Barcia, Manila Times Correspondent

LEGAZPI CITY: Following the opposition of Bayan Muna and other militant group to disqualify and disenfranchise the Bicolano homegrown regional political party, the entire Bicol governors and majority of solons urged the Commission on Election (Comelec) to proclaim immediately the three nominees of Ako Bicol to uphold the rule of law and the voice of the Bicolano eletorate here.
The appeal before the Comelec of the powerful Bicol bloc was led by Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero of Sorsogon wherein they’re urgently asking the poll body to immediately proclaim the regional party-list of the Bicolano people.

“Ako Bicol topped the elections in the party-list system of representation with more than 1.5 million votes nationwide with almost 1.1 million votes in the Bicol region alone. Notwithstanding, the overwhelming mandate given by our people to Ako Bicol, its proclamation has been deferred on the ground that there is a pending disqualification filed against it. Unfortunately, this disqualification case was belatedly filed last May 21, 2010 long after our people has given their mandate to Ako Bicol,” the Bicol bloc pointed out.

“The disqualification case of Ako Bicol as a regional political party with the intention to participate in the partylist system of representation should have been questioned at the time when it was still applying for accreditation and not after the Comelec has issued accreditation. Suffice it to state, the disqualification case is not a legal impediment that will bar the proclamation of Ako Bicol. We therefore, appeal to the Comelec to yield to the sovereign will of our people. Let us not disenfranchise the voters who reposed their trust and confidence on Ako Bicol. Proclaim Ako Bicol immediately to uphold the rule of law and the voice of the people,” the Bicol bloc said in a letter sent to the poll body.

The members of the Bicol bloc who signed for the immediately proclamation of Ako Bicol are Escudero, governors Joey Salceda of Albay, Raul Lee of Sorsogon, Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, Scoot Lanete of Masbate, Edgar Tallado of Camarines Norte and Joseph Cua of Catanduanes while the solons are Al Francis Bichara of Second District of Albay, Fernando Gonzalez of Third District of Albay, Salvio Fortuno, Fifth District of Camarines Sur, Deogracias Ramos of 2nd district of Sorsogon, Salvador Escudero of the First District of Sorsogon and Renato Unico Jr. of First District of Camarines Norte.

Bayan Muna and other militant organizations in Bicol strongly contested the proclamation of Ako Bicol nominees such as lawyers Rodel Batocabe, Pido Garbin and Christopher Co because according to the oppositors the Ako Bicol does not represent the marginalized sector of the society here.

Tessa Lopez, regional spokesman of Bayan-Bicol told The Manila Times that besides the disqualification case they’re pursuing massive signature drive campaign to disenfranchise the Ako Bicol.

Elizaldy “Zaldy” Co, chairman of the board of Ako Bicol told The Times that proclaim or not proclaimed, Ako Bicol will continue pursue its primary thrust to help alleviate the lives of the poor communities, education and development of Bicol region.

Co also told The Times that the leftist group is strongly opposing the proclamation of Ako Bicol nominees because they turned town the request of Bayan Muna leaders to at least allocate or give one seat for Bayan Muna.

Filed under: Sorsogon News Updates

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