Education drive on labor pact needed
By : Susan V. Ople
MANY non-government organizations here in the Philippines continue to receive urgent requests for assistance from families with relatives working as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. Queries regarding long hours, underpayment and delay in payment of salaries, and sexual harassment are sent by troubled household workers via Facebook to help groups such as Patnubay, Center for Migrant Advocacy, Blas F. Ople Policy Center and so many others.
The Philippines signed a bilateral labor agreement on domestic workers with the Kingdom last year, triggering joint cooperation talks on how to operationalize the mutual agreement meant to protect vulnerable women. Unfortunately, very few among our workers and their Saudi employers know that such an agreement exists, and the spirit by which it was forged — how to protect Filipino domestic workers — has yet to enrich current work relationships. Although a joint memorandum circular still has to be issued on both the sides, the mother agreement embodies general principles that should guide everyone’s actions.
Here are the 8 critical areas of cooperation that the two governments have agreed upon as contained in the bilateral labor pact:
1. Work toward a mutually acceptable recruitment and deployment system for Filipino domestic workers for employment in the Kingdom, pursuant to the applicable laws, rules and regulations.
2. Adopt a standard employment contract for domestic workers, the text of which shall have been accepted by the competent authorities of the two countries, which shall be binding among the contracting parties (Employer, Domestic Worker, Saudi Recruitment Office and Philippine Recruitment Agency).
3. Ensure the recruitment of domestic workers through recruitment offices, companies or agencies that practice ethical recruitment and are licensed by their respective governments;
4. Regulate or endeavor to control recruitment costs in both countries.
5. Ensure that recruitment offices, companies or agencies of both countries and the employer shall not charge or deduct from the salary of the domestic worker any cost attendant to his/her recruitment and deployment or impose any kind of unauthorized salary deductions.
6. Grant to the contractual parties the right of recourse to competent authorities in case of contractual dispute, in accordance with applicable laws, rules and regulations.
7. Take legal measures against the recruitment offices, companies or agencies for any violation of applicable laws, rules and regulations; and,
8. Resolve any issue arising from the implementation and enforcement of any provision of this agreement.
Chief implementor of this agreement in Manila is the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) headed by reform-minded Administrator Hans Cacdac. He conveyed to stakeholders belonging to the Overseas Land-based Tripartite Council (OLTC) that the labor agreement has proven to be helpful in resolving several cases.
The POEA pledged to convene a workshop to discuss the bilateral labor agreement as well as other relevant issues connected to domestic workers’ rights in Saudi Arabia.
Both labor ministries must embark on an education drive involving recruitment agencies, Saudi employers, and Filipino domestic workers. As long as these stakeholders keep talking about ethical recruitment practices and safe migration, the momentum toward social protection for Filipino domestic workers becomes irreversible. To start with, all departing household workers and their Saudi employers as well as recruitment agencies on both sides must be required to read the agreement.
Protection and accountability works both ways, and a bilateral labor pact will remain meaningless unless understood and accepted by all stakeholders.