The country's overseas employment service providers appealed to concerned government agencies and both the Senate and the Lower House to come to the defense of the Filipino overseas contract workers whose rights, interests and welfare will be put at risk by the impending implementation of the "unified contract."
The group, led by the 777-strong Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc., (PASEI), the biggest association of landbased recruitment agencies licensed by the POEA and DOLE, said the onerous "unified contract", a unilateral imposition by a private group of private agencies from Saudi Arabia called the Saudi National Recruitment Committee, may take effect on September 1 this year.
The implementation of the "unified contract" which PASEI branded as "prejudicial," was relayed by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in a Note Verbale dated July 18, 2008 to Assistant Secretary Jesus I. Yabes of the Office of the Middle East and African Affairs who furnished last July 22, 2008 copies to the Department of Labor and Employment and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration for their "information and appropriate action". To date, no action was taken by both DOLE and POEA in protecting the OCWs against the Unified Contract which is about to take effect by September 1.
"We strongly oppose this scheme because it is virtually devoid of any consultation with the Philippine government, industry stakeholders and most especially with the Filipino migrant workers' groups and OCWs who will be greatly disadvantaged by the proposed onerous scheme," PASEI president Victor E. R. Fernandez, Jr. said.
He pointed out that the Department of Foreign Affairs, Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Affairs, DOLE, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, would be remiss on their mandated tasks of protecting the rights and promoting the welfare of Filipino OCWs if they treat the "unified contract" as a mere private contract between the SANARCOM member agencies and their Philippines counterparts. It is imbued with public interest and concerns the protection and welfare of our OCWs.
"Will government turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the onslaught and clear "legitimization of oppression and abuses to be committed to our OCWs under the Unified Contract scheme by SANARCOM?," Fernandez asked.
This is due to a provision in the "unified contract" which clearly stipulates that the employer-employee relations between the Saudi employer and the Filipino OCW will be governed by a substituted and another work contract presented by the SANARCOM agency which will disregard the original approved POEA contract attested by our POLO, Fernandez explained. "If this is tolerated, it would certainly spawn the abhorrent practice of contract "substitution" to the detriment of the Filipino OCWs and opens the worker to "permitted abuses," he added.
POEA called the leaders of the industry associations to a meeting on the subject last July 28 but nothing immediately clear came out of it in terms of action. "The letter supposed to be drafted by the POEA conveying to the DFA the strong sense and unanimous objections of the industry stakeholders vis-à-vis the unified contract has yet to reach the royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia through the Philippine DFA with copy to PASEI," said Fernandez.
He warned that if concerned government agencies and Congress cannot do anything to prevent the implementation of the "unified contract" before September 1, PASEI will wage a sustained campaign among industry stakeholders to refuse acceptance and signing of any "unified contract" with any Saudi recruitment agency whether or not they are members of the SANARCOM group of KSA, or any manpower agency or intermediary in the Middle East.
Fernandez vowed to take this issue as well to the ILO, IOM, UNIFEM and concerned NGOs such as Consultative Council for OFW and Migrante as well as with the newly formed Alliance of Asian Associations of Overseas Employment Service Providers composed of Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Urging their member agencies to "prevent the oppression of our OCWs," Fernandez also appealed to them "to take the moral high grounds and show our genuine concern for the rights and welfare of the OCWs we deploy because the problems and concerns of our OCWs are our concerns as well. Our OCWs need not be defenseless and strong determined decisive action in unison with government and industry stakeholders is the battle cry of the day to protect our OCWs as well as other migrant workers from other labor-exporting countries."