The secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in the Philippines, Rosalinda Baldoz, is meeting with Hong Kong Secretary of Labour and Welfare, Matthew Cheung in Hong Kong on August 6 and 7 to discuss reforms to the domestic worker regime in the Philippines.
The meetings come after a delegation of NGOs, led by Legislative Councilwoman Emily Lau of the Democratic Party, visited Manila for four days to discuss agency overcharging and better rights training for migrant workers.
Ms. Lau and the group of representatives from Hong Kong met with senior officials of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA). Lau asked both governments to establish constant communication on domestic workers issues, rather than on a case-by-case basis.
According to the Hong Kong government, 336,000 migrant domestic workers, primarily from Indonesia and the Philippines, work there as domestic help in homes, where they can earn significantly more, about $530/month, than in their home countries.
At the meetings, the Government of the Philippines discussed its new ‘zero placement payment’ policy to address the overcharging of domestic workers by employment agents for training and travel expenses.
The POEA estimates that costs for documentation, medical examination, insurance and training amount to around P15,000 ($328) per worker, however some domestic workers claim to be charged as much as P80,000 ($1,750) for job placement. Many migrant workers go through money lenders and debt collectors in Hong Kong in order to pay the agency fees up front, and must pay them back, including interest, over several months or years. Advocates say this leads to a cycle of exploitative and often illegal debt, which can get larger for each work contract a domestic worker signs.
During the meetings the Philippines representatives stated that they believed many problems began through this cycle of debt, but enforcement would be needed in both countries to enforce policies.
The Domestic Workers Roundtable, a group of domestic workers NGOs in Hong Kong that organized the meetings, says they aim to create an inter-governmental working group between Hong Kong, Indonesia, and the Philippines dedicated to ending exploitation of migrant workers.
The Hong Kong government has been under scrutiny following media coverage of the abuse case of Erwiana Sulistyaningish, who was beaten by her employer over eight months. In February, her employer was sentenced to six years in prison for the assaults of Erwiana and another domestic worker. Following high profile cases of abuse against migrant workers abroad, Indonesian President Joko Widodo to pledged an end to the labor export program, though has not made clear if he will take steps to do so.
On August 10, Lau and the Domestic Workers Roundtable will travel to Jakarta to meet with the Minister for Labour and Transmigration and the Head of the National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Overseas Workers.