CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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A stunt to no avail

HONG KONG (SE): “We hope the applicants do not lose out in the process if the suspension will result in the lapse of their job placements,” Julius Cainglet, the vice president of the Federation of Free Workers in Manila, said of the decision by the Philippine labour secretary, Silvestro Bello, to call a three-week moratorium on the issuing of the much criticised Overseas Employment Certificate on November 13.
The federation called the three-week ban a good stop gap measure, even though it will impact negatively on the deployment of some 75,000 people due to leave the shores of the Pearl of the Orient Seas for jobs overseas.
Cainglet was backed up by Bishop Ruperto Santos, from the Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, who praised it as an opportunity to carry on a bit of house cleansing.
“Irregularities exist within, so corrupt officials must be exposed, prosecuted and severely punished,” the hopeful bishop said in advising those who are losing out badly on the deal not to worry!
However, the long suffering migrant workers from The Philippines do not share his great optimism, as few believe that moratorium or no moratorium the government will do anything effective to clean up its act in either the short or long term.
Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, from United Filipinos Hong Kong, claims that the labour secretary is flaying at windmills, as it is not the corrupt staff, who are plentiful and will remain so even after his promised purrge, that is the problem, but the Overseas Employment Certificate itself.
While the cleanup is billed as aimed at preventing migrant workers from being trafficked to countries like Russia on the promise of high wages, Balladares-Pelaez believes that the Overseas Employment Certificate has already proven to be an ineffective instrument in addressing what she admits is a pressing problem.
Balladares-Pelaez said in a press release on November 12 the ban will do nothing more than deprive thousands of people of a job, with no provision of how they can finance three weeks twiddling their thumbs around The Philippines waiting for deployment and without knowing whether their jobs will still be on offer at the end of the period of the ban.
In asking why whenever the government wants to put on a show of cleaning up corruption it is always the victims of scams that suffer and not the corrupt officials that rip them off, she described the ban as a scam in itself.
Bello issued a department order on November 9 suspending the acceptance of applications for processing from November 13, which is to remain in effect until December 1.
However, it seems to be little more than a flamboyant tinkering around the periphery of what is a deep seated systemic problem of debt indentured labour that the government promotes.
As the labour attaché in Hong Kong, Jalilo dela Torre, noted, migrant workers are vulnerable to silver tongued agents talking lots of money to be made, as they mostly have a fairly low degree of financial literacy and the debt they are forced to go into just to get a job in the first place leaves many in desperate straits.
Balladares-Pelaez said that United Filipinos has long argued that the Overseas Employment Certificate is an unnecessary document, as migrant workers already have adequate documentation to substantiate their status, and it only exists as a mechanism for collecting more fees from people who are already subject to a variety of rackets from agents and licencing institutions.
In a second statement issued on November 15, she called for compensation for those who are affected by the ban, noting that in just two days since it took effect, some 210 workers have been prevented from being deployed to Hong Kong alone.
While those who issue the certificates will remain on the payroll, although the scurrilous element will suffer a drop in kickbacks, the affected workers are simply left further out of pocket.
She quoted the Philippine Overseas Labour Office as saying that it is anticipated that 70 Hong Kong-bound workers a day are being penalised.
“Everyday thousands of overseas foreign workers continue to lose their income or are losing their jobs. The government has already failed to provide decent jobs back home, now they endanger the jobs overseas that foreign workers have already acquired. The government must take full accountability for the workers losses,” Balladares-Pelaez stated.
She goes on to point out that this represents the deceit of the president who promised so much in his campaign but has delivered so little, as well as a labour secretary who fiddles around the periphery instead of arresting, prosecuting and punishing corrupt officials.
“Doing nothing only shows that this government is not for the interest of the Filipino people or our overseas workers,” she noted.
At a rally held at the offices of the Philippine Consulate General in Admiralty on November 12, Balladares-Pelaez said, “Call a spade a spade. Bello’s suspension of the Overseas Employment Certificate is deceptive and confusing, since in reality it is a suspension of deployment, not just the certificate. Before it was the ID-Card, another money-making scheme to be paid for by employers.”
She accused Bello of pulling a stunt to make it look like he is doing something, instead of doing the simple things that could actually address the issue.
Meanwhile, the secretary for Labour and Welfare in Hong Kong, Law Chi-kwong, told a radio station on November 11 that up to 1,000 families in Hong Kong could be inconvenienced by the ban. “We will look into what measure we can take to help these families,” he said.

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