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Polo brings back direct hiring for Filipino workers

03 August 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

Labatt Dizon's directive says all work contracts will  have to be submitted to HK Immigration directly 

In a move that has sent ripples through the community, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office has effectively cut off all agency interventions in the hiring of Filipino workers in the city.

A memo issued by Labor Attache Melchor Dizon today, Aug 3, says that from Aug 10, all employment contracts for Filipinos will have to be submitted directly to Hong Kong Immigration for the issuance of the work visa.

Once the visa is issued, the contract, along with supporting documents, shall be submitted directly to Polo for verification, and then forwarded to the Consulate for authentication and release.
The new rules apply to all work contracts for Filipinos, in particular domestic workers,  whether they be new hires, re-contract with the same employer, or those moving to a new employer, whether or not the previous contract had matured, or was prematurely terminated.

Currently, all employment contracts, except those where a Filipino domestic worker had signed up anew with the same employer, must be coursed through employment agencies accredited with Polo.

Labatt Dizon’s move came in the wake of his decision to shut down Polo’s offices, after receiving a report from Hong Kong’s health authorities that an employment agency’s liaison staff had visited them before testing positive for Covid-19.
While the sudden policy change caught agencies off-guard and prompted warnings of less protection for OFWs, Filcom leaders were quick to applaud the move.

Dolores Balladares, chairperson of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, said in a statement:
“We welcome the new advisory. It has been a long-standing demand of OFWs in Hong Kong that there should be direct hiring, specially during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Makakagaan na ito sa laki ng gastusin ng mga OFW dahil hindi lang mga pangangailangan nila ang kanilang ginagastusan, kundi pati na rin ng pamilya nila sa Pilipinas.”
(This will help alleviate the heavy financial burden of OFWs who not only have to spend for themselves, but also for their families back in the Philippines).

Bayan Hong Kong and Macau chair Eman Villanueva echoed the sentiment. “We welcome the decision of Polo to direct all contract processing to the Immigration Department and Polo Hong Kong office without the need to go through an agency,” he said.

“This has been our long-standing demand - that direct-hiring should be allowed - and going through an employment agency should just be made optional.”
Villanueva said he hopes that Labatt Dizon will continue the new measure even after the pandemic “and will not be pressured by groups of employment agencies to revert to its previous policy.”

Agencies, however, warn, that the move will have “very serious” implications not only for them, but also for the worker’s interest and protection.

Thomas Chan, head of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies, said that without their intervention, “bad” employers could easily escape Polo’s monitoring.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

He also warned that agencies without accreditation could easily recruit workers and charge them illicit fees without fear of having their licenses revoked by Polo and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

In addition, workers could start getting their relatives hired by employers even under unfavorable terms. “Once problems come, no accredited agencies will be responsible,” he said.

Direct hiring was, however, allowed up until the term of former Labor Attache Bernardino Julve in the early 2000s, with hardly any problem being reported.

The policy changed only after he left, when all contracts, except those where the worker had completed a previous one, were made to go through agencies.

Balladares said that Dizon’s move came just as she and other OFW leaders had started talking about protesting the continued intervention of agencies in the processing of work contracts, when they hardly do any work.
Both the PCG and Polo are trying to limit the number of people lining up for services as part of anti-virus measures

Most, if not all, foreign domestic workers, are now being allowed by Hong Kong Immigration to remain here instead of going back to the Philippines before starting on a new contract, whether or not they completed their previous one, or it was terminated prematurely.

That meant that agencies were only submitting and following up documents with Polo, the Consulate and HK Immigration, tasks that anyone, including the worker concerned, can do.

At the start of the pandemic, agencies were given an even bigger role, as even those who finished their previous contracts but were changing employers, were required to go through an agency. Previously, the workers themselves were allowed to do this work.

At that time, Polo said it was part of a bid to decongest its offices and promote social distancing among those queuing up for services.

It did not seem to occur to Polo officials then that the dreaded coronavirus would make its way into its offices through an agency personnel.
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