Filipino Labour and Illegal Recruitment Schemes

Filipino Labour and Illegal Recruitment Schemes

Driven by dire financial situations and economic struggles in the Philippines, many Filipinos are looking for a better life in Europe. Soaring inflation, and the residual impact of COVID-19, Filipinos have been increasingly seeking opportunities abroad. Poland is increasingly becoming a destination for many migrant workers. However, the hope that migration will translate to stable income has been marred by deceptive recruitment practices, leaving many feeling cheated and exploited.


The Philippines has a longstanding history of labour migration, with remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) forming a crucial part of the national economy. A 2022 survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority revealed that the estimated number of OFWs totalled 1.96 million. In recent years, Europe, and Poland in particular, emerged as a key destination. The promise of higher salaries, family reunification opportunities, and access to a European lifestyle attracted many. According to Al Jazeera, the number of Filipino workers in Poland spiked dramatically, with 22,557 work visas issued in 2022 compared to just 2,057 in 2018.


“They encouraged me to work there,” stated an interviewee of Al Jazeera, recalling the first online exchanges with the Poland-based agency.


“I want [my son] to be a doctor. That’s why I want to go to Poland”.


Filipino workers, many of whom were already employed in countries like Qatar and Hong Kong, were lured by the prospects of working in Poland through social media and word-of-mouth. These workers faced extortionate recruitment fees, often exceeding $3,500 to $5,000, alongside hidden charges and intimidating tactics from agents.


In the interviewee’s case, she sent about 162,000 Philippine pesos ($2,880) via Western Union to the agency and then had to pay an additional 1,500 euros ($1,635) as an “assurance fee”, which is supposedly intended to dissuade workers from abandoning their job in Poland, which is often solicited on the understanding it will be refunded after six months to a year.


Despite complaints filed against these exploitative practices, accountability has been elusive, with no agencies held responsible, no punishments meted out, and no refunds or compensation provided to the victims.


The Philippines has enacted policies aimed at protecting its citizens seeking overseas employment through the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW). These policies, including the 2023 Rules and Regulations Governing the Recruitment and Employment of Land-based OFWs, aim to regulate recruitment, employment, and deployment. The inclusion of Pre-Departure Orientation Seminars (PDOS) and the Comprehensive Pre-Departure Education Program (CPDEP) equips prospective OFWs with essential tools to navigate language barriers, understand cultural nuances, and effectively manage stress in foreign work environments. These initiatives not only aim to prepare OFWs for practical aspects of overseas living but also safeguard their rights and well-being, ensuring a more secure overseas employment experience.


Despite these efforts, illegal recruitment schemes persist and Hong Kong is a hotbed for such activities. These schemes violate Philippine labour laws and charge placement fees exceeding the equivalent of one month's salary, which is only permissible if the contract is approved by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and collected after all paperwork is completed.


Llewelyn Perez, The Philippines’ labour attaché in Prague, who oversees worker support across six European nations, Poland included, reported an initial batch of 15 grievances from Filipino labourers in Hong Kong regarding an agency known as CIS Group Manpower. As of November, Filipino authorities in Hong Kong documented a total of 24 complaints against both CIS Group Manpower and a local agency affiliated with it.


Further to this, over the course of six months, Al Jazeera conducted surveillance on multiple social media profiles engaged in job recruitment for Poland, revealing a recurring pattern where Facebook and TikTok accounts, boasting substantial followings, were deactivated only to resurface shortly thereafter under new aliases.


To address the distressing situation revealed and build upon the existing policy framework, impACT recommends the following measures:


Firstly, stricter regulation and enforcement of recruitment agencies are paramount. This involves intensifying the monitoring activities, including on social media, and imposing more severe penalties for violations of labour laws.


Enhancing transparency in the recruitment process is key, whereby all fees are clear and subject to approval. Implement mechanisms for tracking and penalising agencies that evade regulations.

There is also a critical need for global collaboration, particularly in forging stronger bilateral agreements between the Philippines and countries like Poland, ensuring that migrant workers' rights are rigorously protected. 


Expanding awareness campaigns is another key area; enhancing the reach and depth of Pre-Departure Orientation Seminars (PDOS) and the Comprehensive Pre-Departure Education Program (CPDEP) would better educate OFWs about their rights and the risks involved in overseas employment.


Additionally, providing robust support for victims of recruitment fraud is crucial. This support should encompass comprehensive legal aid and financial assistance to help them recover from their ordeals.


Lastly, there is a need for continuous evolution and refinement of policies to address the emerging challenges in overseas employment. This would involve updating and introducing new strategies to combat exploitation and fraud, ensuring that Filipinos seeking better opportunities abroad are not left vulnerable to deceit and injustice.


In conclusion, the distressing experiences of Filipino workers in pursuit of better opportunities abroad necessitate immediate and comprehensive policy reforms and interventions. By fortifying enforcement, enhancing transparency, providing support and redress, and raising public awareness, we can aspire to create a safer and more secure environment for Filipinos seeking employment opportunities overseas. It is incumbent upon both the Philippines and destination countries to take decisive steps to eradicate exploitative practices and ensure the welfare of overseas Filipino workers.


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