Perhaps one of the most important functions of a foreign post is that of providing assistance to our kababayans working overseas.
The Filipino overseas worker has been a ubiquitous presence in so many countries all over the world. The diaspora contributes some 30 billion dollars annually to our economy.
But aside from the social impact of separated families, there are instances where our overseas workers suffer from abuse by their employers, or brokers, or encounter simple brushes with the law in their areas of work.
Such incidents are not as prevalent in Taiwan as in other countries where most Filipinos seek employment, such as in the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia.
This can be attributed to the proactive work being done by both the Philippine and Taiwanese governments to ensure the welfare of OFWs on the island.
Taiwan employs hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in their factories, fishing vessels and households. Around 137,000 of these workers are Filipinos.
This makes Filipinos the third-biggest group of foreign workers in Taiwan, next to the Indonesians and the Vietnamese. Thai workers come in fourth.
According to the Philippine labor office in Taipei, only about 1 percent of the total number of OFWs in Taiwan have encountered labor and contract violations from their employers, and almost all of them were resolved and decided in their favor.
Aside from empowering our workers through a sustained information and awareness campaign against unfair and abusive labor practices, our labor office set up 24/7 telephone hotlines manned by welfare or case officers that attend to our OFWs’ calls for assistance.
Likewise, Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor maintains an all-day, all-week hotline to receive reports of labor disputes involving migrant workers.
The labor office, as well as the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, conducts business on the first and third Sundays of the month to further provide service to OFWs who can only leave their place of work during their weekend off.
Incidentally, MECO is the only representative office in Taiwan that maintains two other satellite offices, in Taichung and Kaohsiung, to attend to the needs of Filipinos working outside Taipei. Every other country maintains office only in Taipei even those who have far sizable numbers of contract workers than Filipinos.
When we assumed office, the DOLE and its attached agencies such as OWWA, even Philhealth, SSS and Landbank were housed separately from the MECO office, an inconvenience for our OFWs who have to shift from one office to another. To address this physical inconvenience, we have caused the transfer to a single, second-floor office less than a hundred meters from the MRT station, which would house all Philippine-related offices, including trade and tourism all together.
Nonetheless, disputes and claims of abuse can not be totally avoided.
Most of these issues and concerns are borne out of circumstances which are beyond the control of Philippine authorities.
Examples would be disparity in the salaries and benefits of Filipino workers as compared to other migrant or local workers, and incidents of management or individual employer problems.
On calls from OFW groups to dismantle the broker system, as much as the present MECO board advocates direct hiring, the former is a deeply-entrenched and widely-accepted labor practice in Taiwan that eliminates the inconvenience of dealing with Taiwan laws and procedures for employers, especially the smaller ones.
Some small companies even outsource their entire Human Resource Department to take care of their personnel requirements. Big business like I-MEI, a food manufacturing company, however recently conducted direct hire recruitment for 200 job positions in Davao and Manila, but only because they have the wherewithal to facilitate hiring of foreign workers. MECO encouraged and assisted them in this direct hiring program, and I-MEI has been very happy with its Filipino workers.
A household needing a caregiver does not have similar resources or direct hiring abilities, so they rely on brokers and manpower agencies.
Work contracts signed by our workers are followed to the letter in Taiwan, so there can be no violation thereof unless the employer reneges on any of its provisions or any other applicable law.
Sometimes employers go bankrupt, experience ownership disputes or run away from their obligations, occasions that can not possibly be avoided. Such incidents are often exaggerated in the news or social media.
It’s a thankless job at times. MECO and labor front liners bear the brunt of often baseless criticisms.
But whenever a Filipino in Taiwan is in distress, MECO and its attached agencies are prepared to leap into action and extend assistance.
Even if there is a Philippine overseas labor office, as well as welfare officers, MECO has an active Assistance to Nationals department manned mostly by tri-lingual personnel who can thus communicate to OFWs in Filipino and English, and to employers as well as local officials in Mandarin.
The reality on the ground is an overwhelming majority of Filipino workers find work conditions and pay better here in Taiwan than in other countries for similar work.
And MECO as well as its attached offices continue to work as best as we could for the welfare of our kababayans.
As published in the Manila Standard Today: