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‘One strike’ rule set for rogue recruiters

28 March 2016

By Daisy CL Mandap

In the clearest signal yet of the Philippine government’s desire to go after undesirable recruitment agencies, the new labor attache for Hong Kong has vowed to use the iron fist in dealing with recruiters found violating the laws.
Labatt Jalilo de la Torre.

Speaking to The SUN in an exclusive interview in Manila. days before he was set to assume his post in Hong Kong on Mar. 15, Jalilo or “Jolly” de la Torre, said he intends to strictly implement the “one strike policy” of the Philippine government. That means, immediately imposing strict sanctions on a Hong Kong-registered agency and its Philippine counterpart for a single infraction of the law.
“One violation will lead to disciplinary action to both Hong Kong and Philippine agencies,” de la Torre said.
The policy extends in particular to agencies found to have violated the Philippines' no-placement fee rule.
“The most immediate concern is obviously to protect OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) against excessive placement fees,” said de la Torre, who also vowed transparency and account-ability during his watch.
He added that with 590 agencies in Hong Kong accredited with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in Manila, there appears to be a need to weed out the undesirables.
“There are far too many of them, anyway,” he said.
An investigation conducted by the Consulate two years ago revealed that nearly 100 of these agencies were accredited only during the time of former labor attache Manuel Roldan, whose case for serious misconduct in office is still under review by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
De la Torre hinted he may adopt a freeze on accreditation, but would have to consult first with POEA Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac.
The lawyer and veteran labor official said he will anchor his term in Hong Kong in the acronym REPEAT, to reflect his having been posted here previously as a deputy labor attache.
“R stands for reintegration planning, E for easy, faster and clean transactions, P for protection of OFWs, E for ethical recruitment, A for awareness of rights and T for teamwork (with the Consulate, Filipino community organizations and NGOs),” he said.
In line with his desire to work hand-in-hand with the stakeholders in the recruitment process, de la Torre promised to immediately convene the regular leaders’ forum which was the hallmark of the term of a predecessor, Bernardino Julve, now a commissioner at the National Labor Relations Commission.
De la Torre said he also intends to resume his old practice of doing a walkabout in Hong Kong on Sundays and attending Filcom events to better feel the pulse of the community.
He promised to look at the outstanding demands of OFWs, such as the resumption of selective direct hiring of domestic workers from the Philippines, the non-compulsory collection of membership fees to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and the scrapping of the overseas employment certificate (OEC), but said these were matters that could be not be addressed readily at his level.
What he promised to work on immediately is to speed up the online processing of the OECs to put an end to the long queues seen during the peak application periods.
“I don’t understand why people would want to queue up for hours when they can do it (secure the OEC) in 5-10 minutes in the comfort of their homes?” he said.
He was aghast when told that because of the inexistent data base of OFW workers in Hong Kong, one has to queue up longer at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office to get enrolled in the much-touted Balik Manggagawa Online system than to secure the manually processed OEC.
He promised to immediately look into how the online registration process could be streamlined and improved to make it easier for workers who need the all-important OEC before going home to the Philippines for a vacation.
In the meantime, he said it may be worth looking into using the Bayanihan Centre again for OEC issuance while the online system is being improved to make it fully responsive to the needs of the 170,000 or so migrant workers in Hong Kong.
Another immediate concern is to work on the agenda of the planned resumption of high-level talks between labor officials in the Philippines and Hong Kong, originally set for Mar. 15, but has been indefinitely postponed so the two sides could continue to work on the agenda.
“Secretary Linda Baldoz would like to come if we could firm up the agenda,” he said.
He added the planned talks are an “honest to goodness” attempt to provide better working conditions and protection to OFWs.
De la Torre, who is in his late 50s, is a lawyer and bar topnotcher, and was previously a consultant at the National Reintegration Center of OWWA. He was last posted as a labor attache in Canberra, Australia, and also served in this capacity in Israel and Saudi Arabia.
His first posting abroad was in Hong Kong, where he served as a deputy to the late Dante Ardivilla.
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