REGULATIONS have not been effective in protecting the rights of migrant workers, with fees charged by private recruiting firms in the Philippines producing hardship for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

“Existing legislation is often inadequate or has loopholes that raise migration costs,” according to an ADB report, Safeguarding the Rights of Asian Migrant Workers from Home to the Workplace.

The bank cited as an example the Philippines where the government allows private employment companies to levy fees on workers.

“High recruitment costs lead to indebtedness and wage deductions,” read the report.

According to ADB, going to the Middle East takes about a month’s worth of a wages while recruitment costs account for half the migration costs of OFWs heading to Qatar.

“Limited capacity and insufficient allocation of resources also contribute to ineffective enforcement in countries of origin,” said ADB.

It was also found that while there has been legislation against imposing fees on domestic workers in the Philippines, these are not well-implemented.

“While zero fees and cost legislation is a necessary first step, enforcement is key, and has been uneven,” according to the report.

According to the international lender, malpractice in recruitment is also due to the lack of organization and empowerment of low-skilled workers.

“There are hardly any effective organizations to represent their interests, and many workers may not be aware of their rights under employment contracts,” read the report.

Lack of resources and the absence of needed documents such as receipts to prove payment hinder migrant workers from taking their employers to court.

Limited information and evidence of the effective implementation of agreements between countries hound the migration practices.

“…the continuing stories of abuse of domestic workers from countries that have bilateral agreements with Saudi Arabia casts doubt on the effectiveness of agreements,” ADB said.

Saudi Arabia took in the most OFWs among the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries (GCCs), bringing the total migrant Filipinos in the Middle East to 896,000 in 2015.

According to the bank, the Philippines provides accountability rules for both private recruitment agencies and foreign employers for contract violations.

“In practice, however, while local recruitment agencies have been held accountable, foreign employers have not,” read the report.

The bank backs an end to worker-paid recruitment fees and costs.

The government must also subsidize recruitment costs as “e-based recruitment, either through state-funded or private sector portals, also minimizes the number of intermediaries involved. Direct recruitment can take place by accredited or screened employers.”

ADB also suggested simplifying immigration rules and “vacancy-driven recruitment.”

“Free or freer movement of labor reduces costs,” said ADB, adding that “recruitment should always be tied to actual job vacancies.”

There must also be efforts to improve regulation as “government regulations can be supplemented by both industry self-regulation and monitoring by trade unions and civil society organizations.”

ADB added that migrant workers must be empowered by trade unions, migrant associations and civil society organizations through services which would help them take hold of their rights, especially in the filing of legal cases for recruitment — or employment-related abuses.

“Beyond services delivery, however, migrant workers should be empowered to represent their own interests and to safeguard their rights through migrant associations and trade unions,” said the lender.

The Philippines has been exporting the most migrant workers among Asian countries over the last seven years beginning 2009 with more than 1.4 million OFWs abroad in 2015.

Second to the Philippines in 2015 is Pakistan, followed by India, Bangladesh, the People’s Republic of China, Nepal, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. By Danica M. Uy, 24 Feb 2017

The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ASEAN Trade Union Council.