CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 April 2019

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Useless certificate on chopping block

HONG KONG (SE): Migrant workers in Hong Kong from The Philippines have welcomed an announcement that the Overseas Employment Certificate, which they have long argued is a meaningless document that is time consuming to procure, is on the chopping block.

From September 15, the requirement for migrant workers returning from home leave to the same employer or job site to obtain an Overseas Employment Certificate will be temporarily dropped on an experimental basis.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) announced on August 7 that the labour secretary, Silvestre Bello, gave approval to the exemption in Governing Board Resolution No. 12, following a promise from the president, Rodrigo Duterte, to streamline the processes of deploying of overseas workers.

Duterte says that streamlining will lessen the burden on people requiring documents as well as the pressure on overcrowded government offices in congested areas of Manila.

The experimental exemption covers workers who are returning to the same employer and job site or have been hired through the POEA Government Placement Branch.

Dolores Balladares Pelaez, the chairperson of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, called the exemption a response to one of the longtime demands of overseas workers.

“This has been a long-running concern of overseas Filipino workers as we deem the Overseas Employment Certificate to be a useless profit-making document that has caused nothing but inconvenience to us,” Balladares Pelaez said.

The government currently requires overseas workers to have the certificate in order to claim exemption from travel and airport taxes.

Balladares Pelaez said that people already hold multiple documents showing the legitimacy of their overseas worker status, including a contract and a passport with a work visa, which she insists makes the extra certificate superfluous.

“All the Overseas Employment Certificate does is force us to spend almost the whole of our day off lining up at the consulate to get the document. Or force us to travel all the way to the POEA and be subjected to even more payments if we fail to get the certificate from an overseas post,” she stated.

Balladares Pelaez emphasised that scrapping the certificate was one of the top demands in an agenda submitted to the Duterte administration through the Department of Labour and Employment and the Department of Foreign Affairs by people in Hong Kong.

These demands were supported by more than 150 organisations.

Rights organisations in Hong Kong are actively pursuing other matters on the agenda and are urging the Duterte administration to act within the first 100 days of its term.

Other demands include scrapping the 550 peso ($96) terminal fee, currently collected with the sale of plane tickets, investigating the bullet scam at Ninoy Aquino Airport and the opening of Balikbayan boxes by customs officials.

The migrant wish list also includes aligning passport fees in Hong Kong with The Philippines, increasing the budget for legal assistance and sufficient on-site funding for services of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

Balladares Pelaez reported that a dialogue with officials from the Department of Labour and Employment with overseas workers is being arranged for the first week of September and a similar request has been made to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

On August 1, a meeting was held with Joel Maglunsod, the undersecretary of the Department of Labour and Employment, in which local migrant demands were officially presented.

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