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Participating in the culmination conference of the PSI Project on Decent Work and Social Protection for Migrant Workers in the Public Services were around 80 participants, representing government agencies, trade unions, recruiters, migrants’ rights organizations, civil society organizations, regional and international organizations, including the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The highlight of the conference was the launching of PSI’s No Recruitment Fees Campaign. With increasing labor mobility, international recruitment has become a lucrative business for many recruiters, particularly private for-profit recruitment agencies. Out of desperation to find work abroad and to escape poverty and unemployment migrant workers often take on substantial debt to pay exorbitant recruitment fees. Often, workers are forced to take out loans, mortgage their homes or sell their property just to pay off the recruitment fees.
ILO Convention No. 181 (Private Recruitment Agencies) states that employment agencies shall not charge fees to workers. The ILO Principles and Guidelines on Fair Recruitment, recently approved by the ILO Governing Body this month, reiterates this policy.
“Due to debt bondage, migrant workers are unable to complain about poor working conditions. They hesitate joining trade unions for fear of losing their jobs and be deported,” says Annie Geron, PSI Vice President for Asia Pacific. “Recruitment fees grossly violate workers rights to decent work and social protection. It is high time that we put an end to this practice which is ironically widely accepted,” she added.
Keynoting the conference, Philippine Undersecretary Halmen Valdez representing the Cabinet Secretary under the Office of the President of the Philippines, declared the government’s support to the PSI campaign to abolish the practice of charging of recruitment fees on migrant workers. Undersecretary Valdez enjoined the Philippine labor ministry and other concerned agencies to revoke the existing rules and regulations that allow for the collection of recruitment fees equivalent to up to one month’s salary of the worker.
“In the Philippines, placement fees for domestic helper applicants are already prohibited. The same prohibition therefore must be uniformly applied to all migrant workers. By doing so, this will help weed out scrupulous, fly-by-night and profit-driven recruitment agencies,” she says.
Undersecretary Valdez also directed concerned government ministries to facilitate expeditiously the ratification of ILO Convention No. 181. “This Convention will not only protect migrant workers but also promote fair and ethical recruitment practices,” she said.
Aside from the launching of the PSI’s No Recruitment Fees campaign, the 3-day Conference also consisted of a public symposium and a public march where the PSI affiliates joined the broad national coalition of labour organizations in the Philippines to oppose precarious work in public services and call for the abolition of recruitment fees.
Conference participants signing the PSI’s Manifesto for Zero Recruitment Fees.
Philippine Undersecretary Halmen Valdez signing the PSI Manifesto for Zero Recruitment Fees. The Manifesto calls on all governments and non-state actors to uphold fair and ethical recruitment of migrant workers and to support the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 181 (Private Recruitment Agencies) and other key ILO Conventions.
PSI Vice President for Asia Pacific Annie Enriquez-Geron moderating the panel discussion on “Setting the Scene: Current Trends on Labour Mobility, Forced Displacement and Refugee Flows”. Panel speakers included: Catherine Laws ILO Country Office Philippines, Genevieve Gencianos PSI Migration Programme Coordinator, Joyce Bondzie-Asmah Health Services Workers' Union of Ghana, Rachel Puleng Mphaga National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers of South Africa, and Ayegba Ojonugwa Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria.
Ritta Thandeka Msibi, PSI Vice President for Africa and Arab Countries, moderates the panel discussion on “Building Strong and Well-Funded Public Services in Crisis Response, Mobility and Inclusion”. Speakers in the panel included representatives from an allied civil society, the Alternative Budget Initiative, representatives from government agencies: Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and Eze Samson Ikenna of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives.
The PSI delegation of affiliates from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and the Philippines conducted a study visit on 29 November to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in order to have a better understanding of the country’s Labour Migration Policy. PSI delegates held a dialogue with POEA officials to elaborate on the No Recruitment Fees Campaign.
PSI unions from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and the Philippines at the Workers’ March Against Contractualisation held on 30 November in Manila, Philippines. PSI unions demanded an end to precarious contractual jobs in the public services. Coming to the Philippines to culminate PSI’s Project on Decent Work for Migrant Workers, the unions were also demanding an end to the practice of charging recruitment fees on migrant workers.