Crucial safety net
Both OFWs and their employers, oftentimes on the suggestion of middlemen who have some understanding of the POEA requirements, look to an often used sidestep. The OFW is asked to travel first to a visa-waiver country as a tourist/visitor. From there, the worker gets engaged by contract and is then asked to travel to a third country where the employer is. By leaving for employment from a country other than the Philippines, the OFW and the employer effectively avoid having to deal with POEA requirements. But this “sidestep” is fraught with danger for the OFW.
POEA requirements aim to ensure that the OFWs are well protected. They include employer vetting, the insistence on contracts that include insurance cover for accidental death or permanent injury, the repatriation of remains, airfare to the country of work and return to the Philippines under specific conditions. They also require the involvement of the Philippine labor attaché or any authorized representative of the Philippine embassy or consulate or the nearest competent and appropriate government body in the host country to help settle employment disputes through resolution mechanisms required in employment contracts.
By resorting to the “sidestep”, the protective POEA provisions may well be missing from overseas employment contracts simply because they may not be required by the laws of the employer’s country – whether or not the employer wished to avoid being bound by these rules. I have observed firsthand instances when an OFW has died or been injured but the worker’s contract did not include the usual POEA requirements. That has meant that, apart from relying on the New Zealand system of compensations for workplace injuries and fatalities, the OFW or their family have little recourse other than to appeal to the employer for compassion and assistance.
The risks of avoiding the normal contractual standards may be far more serious than missing repatriation costs. While most employers going for the sidestep are most likely motivated by urgency and the need to get an employee started immediately and are not intent on abusing their recruits, there are unscrupulous recruiters who prey on vulnerable workers, especially those desperate to start working and earning, who could become victims of exploitation by criminal elements including human traffickers and slave masters.
What many OFWs and employers often do not expect – and what makes the Philippine system both onerous and effective – is that the POEA requirements must be confirmed as met every time an OFW seeks to depart from the Philippines to work overseas. This includes even departures after a short visit home for vacation or family event or emergency. That means that OFWs need to present all the evidence required to depart and return to their country of work. Considering that time away is typically short, especially after long absences, having to spend the time to obtain necessary clearances can reasonably seem to be an undue burden.
But enforcing the protections each time ensures that OFWs who may have changed employers are fully protected. There are employers who purposely seek third-country OFWs for the ease of recruiting them after they have been brought in by others and might then be contracted to avoid meeting POEA requirements and the time and costs related to fulfilling them.