Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz
Department of Labor and Employment
18 March 2016
(Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz issues the following statement following the 1,000-respondent survey of advocacy organization, Justice Centre showing 17 percent of Hong Kong’s domestic workers are into forced labor.)
“We welcome any study that strengthens protection of overseas Filipino workers. It should be emphasized that under the current, longstanding system of Philippine migration management for the better protection of OFWs, there is a regulatory and welfare framework and mandate vested upon the Department of Labor and Employment and its attached agencies, such as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), alongside the third pillar of Philippine diplomacy on protection of OFWs recognized by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
“The DFA, DOLE, POEA, OWWA and other agencies of the government implement established regulatory and welfare measures, in terms of observing and enforcing compliance with laws, rules, and regulations on safe, legal, and ethical recruitment, and decent working conditions. The presence and operations of our Philippine Overseas Labor Office and our diplomatic and consular missions overseas mandated to provide protective services to our OFWs ensure that our OFWs, especially household service workers, are protected from risks associated with forced labor.
“Since the Philippines has ratified the ILO Core Conventions on Forced Labor, the UN Convention on protection of migrant workers, the UN Convention and Protocol against human trafficking, and the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, the DOLE and the POEA ensure that stakeholders in the recruitment and employment sector adhere to measures that prevent and combat forced labor, human trafficking, unethical and illegal recruitment practices, and abuse and exploitation of domestic workers.
“Various procedural mechanisms applied by the POEA in scrutinizing and standardizing the provisions of employment contracts involving our migrant workers, and in holding accountable employers and agencies who commit recruitment violations and violations of employment contracts, make sure that our migrant workers are fairly informed of their conditions of employment overseas through the various stages of the migration cycle, from pre-employment to pre-departure. Relevant information about their working conditions are further enhanced by our post-arrival orientation sessions (PAOS) to which recruitment agencies are under orders to send their recruited workers.
“The mantle of OFW welfare and protection as implemented by the Philippine government is present in Hong Kong, the elements of which are as follows:
• For Hong Kong OFWs, information and orientation programs such as the online pre-employment orientation seminar (PEOS) electronic portal (peos.poea.gov.ph) and the mandatory pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS) have been institutionalized. Recently, the POEA Governing Board has made the PEOS mandatory for all OFWs. Just as important are the PAOS sessions hosted by the Philippine Consulate and POLO nearly every week.
• There are instances where rogue agencies and uninformed employers commit violations of Philippine and Hong Kong laws and regulations, for instance, overcharging or illegal exaction of fees and confiscation of OFWs’ passports. We have a so-called “strike-one” policy in Hong Kong, under which agencies and employers who commit a violation of our rules and contractual conditions of employment, are immediately stricken off the list of agencies and employers who can recruit from the Philippines and who can employ Filipino household service workers. If the evidence warrants, their licenses and accreditation are either suspended or cancelled.
• The matter of being trapped by debt as a form of forced labor is a continuing concern for our POLO in Hong Kong. There are situations where the collection of excessive placement fees through various forms and contrivances, including the collection of training fees, make for virtual debt bondage. We are aware of these fraudulent practices and continue to strengthen our administrative machinery to document these illegal and unethical practices, and intensify our collaboration with the Hong Kong labor, employment, immigration and police authorities in ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice. We have regular interaction with relevant Hong Kong government authorities, which allows us an opportunity to encourage our counterparts to review existing legislation to enhance protection to migrant workers.
• A bilateral labor cooperation agreement is set for negotiation between the Philippine and Hong Kong governments toward greater protection and welfare of OFWs and compliance with Philippine and Hong Kong laws and regulations. The Philippines and HK governments could—and should—strengthen processes and requirements that firmly allow only law-abiding employers and OFWs to participate in the system. Both sides can ensure that recruitment or employment agencies and employers are properly screened and established as compliant with labor laws.
“There are many migrant workers in HK. The survey seems to suggest that the reality of forced labor is practised upon non-Filipino workers. Regardless of whether the study pertains or not to the plight of Filipino workers, I emphasize that our country’s protective migration management system is in place and stands to be further strengthened.
“Lastly, human trafficking that arises out of forced labor of migrant workers is an offense both in the Philippines and Hong Kong. The Philippines has vastly improved its human trafficking conviction record, and provides rehabilitation, shelter, and other forms of assistance to victims of human trafficking. The core objective of our laws, regulations, and systems on migration management is to ensure that our migrant workers are recruited and deployed free from the dangers of forced labor, human trafficking and modern slavery.”