The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines hails the enactment of the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) as a legal and historic milestone in the struggle of our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and seafarers.
“For decades, our OFWs have no house in the Executive branch. Their needs were met by different agencies which were all separate and far apart. Now there is a single house–this department, which will care for all of their needs,” said Rep. Raymond Mendoza, chairperson of the House committee on overseas workers affairs and principal author of the DMW’s House version.
“The DMW will orchestrate all our efforts and policies, which unfortunately were previously fragmented. We need this unification to protect our OFWs. With POEA as our backbone, a total of seven offices were merged to form the DMW (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs, Philippine Overseas Labor Offices, International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB), National Reintegration Center for OFWs, National Maritime Polytechnic). The Overseas Workers Welfare Agency will be an attached agency of the new Department,” added the labor representative.
One department means that there will be harmonization of programs and the removal of unnecessary requirements that incentivize fixers and illegal recruiters. We now remove the paper chase for various transactions and needed assistance from one agency to another. This will necessarily result to the streamlining of requirements and processes since there is only one entry and exit point for all transactions with established processes and accountability for continuous service.
In the past, OFWs had to beg from different agencies for legal assistance, medical assistance, repatriation, or worse—to bring home the remains of OFWs murdered in the often hazardous overseas labor market. Now there will be an Aksyon Fund specifically for OFWs, whether they are documented or undocumented, to be funded by the General Appropriations Act. This will be separate from the Assistance to Nationals and Legal Assistance Fund which shall be transferred to the DFA.
Furthermore, the Philippine Government only had limited regional offices of the POEA in the past — with only 71 personnel manning 18 regional centers. That meant limited services, and documents had to be forwarded and followed up at the central office. Now, full regional offices will be there to help do away with fixers and traffickers. These regional offices will also house the Inter-Agency ONE STOP SHOP Centers for OFWs to remove the business opportunity of these fixers. This will also remove the tedious process that allow fixers and illegal recruiters that exploit our modern-day heroes by making services easily accessible and immediate to OFWs and their families wherever they are.
In addition, the law provides for clear parameters for ethical recruitment, which is the lawful hiring of OFWs in a fair and transparent manner that respects and protects their dignity and human rights. Accreditation of foreign principals as well as the licensing and regulation of recruitment agencies here and abroad shall be pursuant to ethical recruitment and shall be lodged in the DMW. This is intended to eliminate cases of contact violation, contract substitution, and illegal recruitment by reprocessing workers thru a job order that pertains to a non-existent job, a different job, or a different employer.
Also in the past, there was no expedited response to emergencies faced by OFWs. Now we will have a 24/7 emergency response and action center unit which will be integrated with a traditional media and social media monitoring center to respond to OFW emergencies. All distressed OFWs, whether documented or undocumented, will be provided assistance thru the DMW.
Newly published research by the International Organization for Migration-Philippines pointed out that 83 percent of returning OFWs were still unemployed three months after they arrived in the Philippines. The DMW is mandated to develop a full cycle and comprehensive National Reintegration Program. Full cycle means it is embedded in all stages of migration for work beginning from pre-deployment, onsite during deployment, and upon return. It shall also ensure contribution to national development thru investments as well as knowledge and technology transfers from skilled and professional OFWs.
A strengthened National Reintegration Program spearheaded by the new Department will also mainstream Government initiatives for the sustainable return of OFWs into Philippine society, with livelihood projects, wellness programs, financial literacy programs and other similar projects based on the specific needs and skills of the returning OFW.
“A home is the perfect Christmas gift for our modern-day heroes—our OFWs and seafarers. For far too long, the immense contribution of our OFWs and seafarers in nation building has gone unrecognized. It is high time that we honor their courage, dedication, and service to the country and give them the recognition they deserve,” added Mendoza. “To our modern-day heroes, our bagong Bayani, we welcome you home to the Department of Migrant Workers Affairs.”