Sunday, November 23, 2008

August 15, 2008

Recruiters to RP govt: Help us fight KSA's unified contract scheme

08/15/2008 09:00 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Is the battle against Saudi Arabia’s unified contract scheme a lonely fight for Filipino recruiters?This was the question of the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc (PASEI) on Friday after noting the “deafening silence" of the Philippine government regarding the re-implementation of the Recruitment and Manpower Deployment Contract on September 1.

The group appealed to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Office of Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (OUMWA), the Department of Labor and Employment, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) “to come to the defense of the Filipino overseas contract workers (OCWs) whose right, interest and welfare will be put at risk" by the new labor scheme.

PASEI President Victor Fernandez Jr. said the group is also appealing to all Philippine overseas employment service providers not to accept and not to sign any "unified contract" with any Saudi recruitment agency or any intermediary in the Middle East.

Philippine recruitment agencies deal directly with employers but under the unified contract scheme, the agencies will have to pass through a Saudi recruitment agency that is a member of the Saudi National Recruitment Committee (Sanarcom).

It remains unclear whether the scheme has already been implemented by the Saudi government. In the July 18, 2008 letter from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, accredited agencies were informed that the scheme would take effect on August 1, 2008.

Fernandez told GMANews.TV that the government agencies concerned, such as the DFA, DOLE, POEA and OWWA “would be remiss if they insist on treating the prejudicial ‘Unified Contract’ scheme as a private contract between the Sanarcom member agencies and the Philippine overseas employment service providers.

"He said the "unified contract" scheme clearly stipulates that the employer-employee relations between the Saudi employer and the Filipino OFW will be governed by the work contract presented by the Sanarcom agency.

“If the arrangement is tolerated, it would certainly spawn the abhorrent practice of contract substitution to the detriment of the Overseas Filipino Workers," said Fernandez, who is in Jeddah for a two-week business visit.According to PASEI, nothing clear came out of the meeting with recruitment agencies and government officials last July 28.

“The letter supposed to be drafted by the POEA conveying to the DFA the strong sense and unanimous objections of the industry stakeholders regarding the implementation of the "Unified Contract" has yet to reach PASEI," the group said in a statement.But lawyer Alberto Abalayan, director of Recruitment and Regulation of the POEA told GMANews.TV that they have already forwarded their recommendations to the office of administrator.“We are hoping for the action from the higher echelons," said Abalayan in a phone interview on Friday.

Abalayan, who referred to the unified contract scheme as anti-OFW, also fears that if the situation between Filipino recruiters and the Saudi government remains unresolved, there would be a stalemate in labor deployment.

“It might temporarily suspend deployment but let’s see how the private (recruitment) sector acts on it," he said.Abalayan said the scheme was junked in 2002 after it met stiff opposition from various Philippine groups from the recruitment industry.

The policy then was only meant for Filipino and other foreign household workers. In the new scheme, all Saudi Embassy-accredited recruitment agencies will be covered by the recruitment policy.The POEA director also hinted that only a bilateral agreement would put a cap on the issue.

Esteban Conejos Jr, DFA undersecretary for migrant workers affairs, said their hands are tied on the issue since “it is a DoLE matter."“At this point, this is a labor issue and not yet in the jurisdiction of the DFA," Conejos said.But Ablayan said the DFA is aware of the situation and could help in voicing out the concerns of the OFWs in the Middle East.“It is the DFA that called our attention to this matter," Abalayan said.

Philippine recruiters have raised fears that they and their recruits will pay additional fees if the scheme takes effect. They claim Sanarcom will act as a "middle man" in the processing of visas for OFWs.PASEI also said the new labor scheme will lead to the cartelization of overseas employment as well as spawn the practice of contract substitution.

According to the latest Philippine statistics, Saudi Arabia employs more than one million skilled and unskilled Filipino workers making it the top destination for OFWs. - GMANews.TV

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