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Group solicits support vs recruitment guidelines

An organization of Filipino workers in Hong Kong is soliciting the support of their compatriots in other countries in protesting against the new recruitment guidelines issued last month by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. “The new POEA guidelines on pre-qualification of domestic helpers as well as caregivers in households boil down to the simple fact that it’s pure extortion," said Dolores Balladares, chair of the militant United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Unifil-Migrante-HK). Under the new rules, all Filipino domestic workers abroad must at least be 25 years of age, and must be paid no less than US$400 a month. The POEA postponed to March 1 the implementation of the new guidelines on age and salary requirements as contained in Resolution No. 12 issued on Dec 29. The guidelines were supposed to be in effect starting Dec 16. The rest of the reform package for Filipino household workers will continue to be implemented. Among these is the requirement that no placement fee will be charged from Filipino domestic helpers, but they will have to undergo a 27-day skills training and attend a country-specific language and culture orientation. Balladares said the $400 minimum monthly wage for domestic workers and the “no placement fee" provision are but “sugar coatings" to cover the real intent of the new scheme. “If the Philippine government cannot even effectively address the problem of recruitment agencies piling dubious charges on top of the legal placement fee, how can it even monitor the implementation of its minimum wage requirement which, in the first place, is instituted by the host government?" she asked. Hong Kong is home to about 118,000 domestic helpers. The territory is one of the main destinations for Filipino, mostly women, household helpers. Under the new guidelines, prospective domestic workers are also required to get a National Certificate for Household Service Workers from the Tesda and an additional Language and Culture Certificate of Competence from the OWWA. Those with two years experience, while not required to undergo the Tesda training, are still mandated to get the certificates after undergoing an assessment. The guidelines also include a similar provision for the OWWA certificate. “Those applying for domestic work abroad are now required to shell out up to P10,000 for the Tesda training on top of the mountain of fees already collected by the government. Truly, we are nothing but milking cows for this government," Balladares added. “Previously, President Arroyo herself has been harping on her government’s supposedly new package for domestic workers. What they evidently failed to mention, that has now become even clearer with the looming elections and monstrous financial requirement for the administration’s campaign, is the fact that the package has an expensive price tag for us," Balladares said. Balladares said that even those who will opt not to undergo the TESDA training or the OWWA orientation shall surely be charged just to get the required certificates. Additionally, the group said that the new requirements unnecessarily burdens current OFWs already working as domestic helpers. “As they are also required to get the certificates, the short vacation period that they are allowed by their employers to be with their families is now in danger of being used for training or processing of the certificates instead," Balladares said. She said her group fears that the new guidelines will become a new breeding ground for corruption considering the desperation of millions of Filipinos seeking overseas employment. Ten Filipino DH in HK lose jobs every day Statistics compiled by the OWWA office at the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong would show that at least 10 Filipina domestic helpers in the territory are displaced each day A total of 3,107 contract terminations were recorded from January to November last year. OWWA welfare officer Liza Mendizabal said the figures do not accurately reflect the extent of the problem because not all cases of job termination are reported. Those whose cases are recorded with OWWA are those who seek help in getting money back from their employment agencies, or who ask for counseling on a range of problems, from non-payment of wages to abuse by employers. The rate of termination usually peaks after big events like Christmas or Chinese New Year, Mendizabal noted. As an example, she said that the number of terminated workers recorded on Dec. 27 reached a high of 35. "These are our helpers who were not immediately terminated because they needed to help with Christmas preparations," she said. More are expected to lose their job after the Lunar New Year holidays next month. The helpers who end up being fired are usually first-timers in Hong Kong, and often young. "I hope that with the new labor policy on the deployment of Filipinas for domestic work abroad, these abusive practices would at least be curbed," Mendizabal said. -GMANews.TV