Assessment of the POEA Awards System for Licensed Land-based and Sea-based Agencies

July 2013- November 2013


The participation of the migration industry is one of the distinctive features of international labour migration in Asia. Across the region, thousands of recruitment and placement agencies operate in countries of origin, which play an important role in matching workers with the employers from different parts of the world. Labor migration in the region is largely mediated by recruitment agencies, which include licensed and unlicensed ones (including traffickers). As such, they have emerged as an important stakeholder in migration.
The Philippines is a major source country of human resources for the global labour market. The country has been noted as having 1,283 licensed recruitment agencies as of November 2012: 853 for land-based workers and 380 for sea-based workers. Recruitment agencies came to play a significant role in the Philippines’ rise as a source-country of workers in the latter part of the 1970s, fuelled by the growing demand for Filipino workers which the government (Overseas Employment Development Board of the Ministry of Labor and Employment at the time) could not cope with. As competition for jobs intensified, irregularities in the recruitment and placement process increased and prompted the government to ease out the private sector in the recruitment process. This however proved to be unsuccessful due to the strong position of the recruitment industry and the expanding overseas employment program.

The government, thus, redirected its focus to the regulation of the private sector. Under this set-up, the private sector contributed to the expansion of migration because recruitment agencies not only matched workers with employers but also became actively involved in market development. The role of the recruitment agencies is notable in the dominant share of agency hires recorded by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which was institutionalized in 1984. Between 2008 and 2010, agency hires accounted for 92-94 percent of total hires per year (IOM, forthcoming).
The establishment of the POEA is an important marker in the governance of labour migration in the Philippines. The POEA has four core functions including industry regulation, employment facilitation, worker protection, and general administrative and support services. The regulatory functions of the POEA may include but is not limited to the following: licensing of recruitment and manning agencies, hearing and arbitrating cases and complaints filed against recruitment/manning agencies, implementing a system of incentives and penalties for private sector participants, setting minimum labour standards, monitoring overseas job advertisements, supervising the government’s anti-illegal recruitment program, or imposing disciplinary actions against employers, workers and seafarers.

In comparison to other origin countries, the Philippines has been able to promote better working conditions for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) due to its relatively high degree of institutionalization of labour migration. Nonetheless, there are loopholes in the system which breeds irregularities and violations of POEA rules and regulations, thereby undermining the protection of OFWs. Consultations with various stakeholders in preparation of the Philippine Country Migration Report suggested that one of the challenges for the country is effectively implementing the legal provisions and policies that are already in place.
Every four years, the POEA conducts a performance evaluation of recruitment agencies for those that qualify for any of the following awards: Top Performer Award, Award of Excellence, and Presidential Award. Each award level has a set of criteria stipulated in Memorandum Circular No. 17 s 2009. The last conferment of awards was given by POEA in 2009.
Since the POEA Awards System was conceptualized in 1984, a Technical Committee has been established to convene before every evaluation process to assess the result of previously granted awards and to review the criteria for the selection of the awardees. However, there is a clear need to undertake an assessment of the award system and to determine the role of incentives for promoting compliance with rules and regulations in promoting safe and ethical migration. ILO will therefore be implementing a project that will aim at addressing this lacuna.

Project Overview

 In 2011, the European Union awarded the ILO funding to better understand the issue of circular migration (INT/09/11/EEC), particularly of health professionals. This project, named Decent Work Across Borders (DWAB) project: A Pilot Project for Migrant Health Professionals and Skilled Workers, seeks to facilitate an approach to migration that benefits migrant workers and the source and destination countries within a rights-based framework for labor migration management. Within this project’s agenda, the general objective of the study is to assess the existing recognition or award system of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to licensed land and sea based employment agencies.

The specific objectives of this project include the following:
  1. To review the rationale and design of POEA’s award system
  2. To examine the implementation of the award system (criteria, stakeholders represented in the selection of awardees, process of implementation, profile of awardees)
  3. To probe how different stakeholders – key government agencies, recruitment agencies (awardees and non-awardees), migrants, trade unions, civil society organizations – view the relevance and usefulness of the award system, its implementation, their perceptions of its role in the promotion of safe and ethical migration
  4. To derive recommendations to improve the design and implementation of the award system

The research methodology involves a desk review on the profile and changing role of the migration industry along with governance issues, and key informant interviews and focus group discussions with different stakeholders. Questionnaires were developed to allow for critical assessment of the POEA awards system and to gather the perceptions of stakeholders on the existing system in comparison to the POEA Memorandum Circular 17 s. 2009. . The Assessment of the POEA Awards System is intended to serve as a working paper that can potentially influence policy dialogues and eventually be presented to the POEA and the project’s advisory committee. This segment of the on-going DWAB Project began 1 July 2013 and will be completed on 29 November 2013.