Message at the First Project Advisory Committee meeting: ILO Decent Work Across Borders Project

By Mr Loreto B Soriano, President/CEO LBS Recruitment Solution Corporation at the First Project Advisory Committee meeting: ILO Decent Work Across Borders Project, Bayleaf Hotel Manila, Philippines, 6 July 2012

Statement | Bayleaf Hotel, Manila, Philippines | 06 July 2012

This pilot project on decent work across borders is a welcome development in the overseas migration industry as it “seeks to better understand schemes in line with circular migration of health professionals” and in line with its three main objectives as: (a) to strengthen mechanisms of policy dialogue among stakeholders; (b) to strengthen employment services for healthcare professionals and skilled workers; and (c) to enhance labor market information system with regards to the migration of healthcare professionals and skilled workers.

May I suggest a fourth objective, “to continuously create local employment opportunities and promote the equitable distribution of wealth and the benefits of development (Sec. 2C, RA 8042) and to deregulate the deployment of health professionals and skilled workers.”

In the Philippines, the state claims that it does not promote overseas employment to sustain economic growth and achieve national development. Paradoxically, this has been the policy for almost 25 years, but deployment figures continue to rise, surpassing the million person annual deployment in 2009.

As a former overseas contract worker myself in Saudi Arabia, it pains me to realize that neighboring countries that were behind us in economic development three decade ago, had overtaken us by this time. “Does this means the managed overseas employment program, a failure?”

This pilot project once again focuses our attention to the paradoxical situation where you have high cost of medical education, medicines and hospitalization; you have a glut of nurses, “but inadequate medical attention to the majority of the population”.

We witnessed a proliferation of nursing schools “but without the proliferation of hospitals”, thus resulting in the rise of inadequately trained nursing students that saw the total passing rate in the bi-annual nursing board exam results below 50% in the past six years.

But that’s because nursing is perception-and-parent-driven. The same is true to caregiving courses, I.T. and today, the latest craze “culinary arts”, what is next?

The perception is that nursing will open opportunities to work abroad, hopefully, the United States as immigrants. Meanwhile, parents directed or persuaded their children to enroll in nursing courses, even if, it is not to their liking.

But the government has its share of the blame. The rule used to be one nursing school, one campus with one hospital. But the rule was relaxed over the years, such that even computer, engineering and law schools without hospitals were allowed to accept nursing students.

Around 2005, there were nursing schools with up to 45 sections in their freshmen class with 45 students per section, with tuition and miscellaneous fees comparable to law school.

Presently, unofficial estimates of unemployed and underemployed licensed nurses are at over 300,000. How about the millions of nursing graduates who did not pass the licensure examinations?

Historically, our deployment of health professionals did not follow the circular migration pattern. Filipino nurses, for example, have been going to the United States even before World War II as immigrants. This continued after the war until 2008 when recession hit the United States, which resulted in hospital closures, among others.

This, plus the so-called visa retrogression, precipitated a rapid decline in U.S. demand for nurses from the Philippines, where the proliferation of nursing schools was in response to rise in U.S. demand. The decline in nursing enrollment was likewise in response to the decline in U.S. demand. Thus, market forces achieved where the government has failed, i.e., regulate nursing schools. Today, “the demand for nurses in the U.S. can be met by U.S. nursing graduates”.

Private recruitment agencies and the migration of health care professionals – Presently, both POEA and private agencies are involved in the recruitment of health professionals. The private sector believes, POEA must set the benchmark and right recruitment model, at all times. POEA must negotiate for the highest standard of employment benefits for its own recruits and deployed health care professionals and skilled workers including service fees paid by its employers. In some instances, the private sector is able to secure higher remunerations and better employment benefits including fees paid for its recruitment services.

POEA Government-to-Government Recruitment Services - The DWAB project should include in its study the relevance and need for POEA continually hiring health care and other professionals, considering that it is both regulator and competitor. In particular, DWAB could study the repeal of sections of the Labor Code (Presidential Decree 442), Republic Act 9422 and Republic Act 10022 allowing POEA to recruit “where policy may dictate (PD 442) or “in the public interest” in RA 9422 and RA 10022. In sum, limit POEA recruitment to government-to-government involving generic foreign government bureaucracies and instrumentalities only.

Mechanisms that good recruitment agencies are not undercut by unscrupulous recruiters – POEA should intensify its surveillance activities and the conduct of salvo inspections particularly those agencies suspected to be owned by foreign placement agencies and are run by their dummies. It is observed in the land base sector that their numbers has been growing, many of them belongs to the top 50 agencies with most number of deployment annually. They have strategically positioned themselves that, they could now control the demand and supply.

How migrant workers be directed to ethical recruitment agencies – POEA should grant incentives and reward agencies that practices ethical recruitment especially those which do not collect placement fees and have no recruitment cases filed against them. The stakeholders and POEA should pursue and adopt a rating, certification and classification system run by independent private certifying body.

Phased deregulation of the overseas recruitment industry – This is the most opportune time to pursue a phased deregulation of the industry since our OFWs are not facing any crisis abroad.

Recruitment laws were born during crisis times: (a) R.A. 8042 was a result of the Flor Contemplacion hanging in Singapore; and (b) and R.A. 10022 was a result of 130 truck drivers getting stranded in Dubai. Recruitment and deployment processes of skilled workers with overseas experience, certified highly skilled and professional must be eased, assistive and facilitative through deregulation. Recruitment processes in the licensed agencies and in POEA must be faster than the illegal recruiters.

Increase voice of migrant workers in assessing migration experience – The project may wish to tap returning health care professionals thru the Philippine Medical Association and Philippine Nurses Association to document their experiences.

Compared to other migrant workers, health care professionals are generally well-taken cared of wherever they are, in terms of salaries, working conditions, accommodations, and, of course, medical attention.

And when we speak about welfare and protection, it must start at home, her in the Philippines where they are citizens.

The government should adopt sound economic (monetary, fiscal, labor, agriculture, industry, infrastructure, etc) policies that will promote creation of permanent jobs so more and more Filipinos will desire less and less to work abroad.

Permanent jobs are more desirable as they officer work experience based on what the graduates were trained for in college. If and when he/she decides to work overseas, he/she possesses the appropriate experience required by his foreign employers. Such will ensure them decent, highly remunerated jobs, and less prone to labor abuse overseas.

Therefore, my prayer is, “Health care graduates and all graduates for that matter must get employed after graduation.”