Manila (UCAN AS0695.0989 August 17, 1998) - The Philippine bishops' commission for migrants has called for renewed protection of overseas workers after government officials failed to convince Taiwanese recruiters to reduce placement fees.
The fees, which reach as high as NT$120,000 (US$3,430), "squeeze migrants of any income they may earn, in most cases forcing them into deep debt," said Bishop Ramon Arguelles, chairman of the Episcopal Commission for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples.
"We condemn the exorbitant fees our (compatriots) are made to pay a job overseas. These fees are unjust and a clear form of exploitation," Bishop Arguelles of the Military Ordinariate said in a July 29 commission report.
The report came after representatives of the Taiwan Association of Manpower Agencies (TAMA) met with officials of the Philippine Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Taipei in July to discuss fee reduction.
According to Taipei-based OWWA officer Mario Antonio. TAMA representatives justified the fees as "reasonable", citing "market conditions" in Taiwan.
The Philippines wants Taiwan recruiters to use a uniform placement fee of one month's pay. The legal minimum monthly wage for workers in Taiwan in 1997 was NT$15,840.
However, the labor officer said that since Thailand had agreed to a fee of NT$92,000 with Indonesia sure to follow, Philippine officals would be hard pressed to negotiate a placement fee equal to one month's pay.
Meanwhile, Taiwan manpower associations urged Philippine President Joseph Estrada to remove Philippine welfare officers in Taiwan in a full-page advertisement in July in the nation's widest circulating newspaper.
"(Welfare officers) neglect their prime duty as arbiters by providing false advice to complaining workers, even assisting them to file complaints to such and such authority without due process", read the July 14 letter from the Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung manpower association heads.
The letter in the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" alleged that welfare officers' methods of handling disputes have led to delays in deploying Filipino workers and to Thai and Indonesian workers being hired instead of Filipinos.
The officers' continued presence in Taiwan would diminish the chances of Filipino workers getting jobs in Taiwan, the recruiters warned.
"What used to be regarded as the most honest, trainable, adaptable, courteous and hard-working overtime-loving people... have transformed into irresponsible, unruly, hard-headed and disobedient people", they added.
However, in a July 23 letter to Estrada, chaplains and pastoral workers in Taiwan said that Philippine welfare officers in Taiwan are just doing their job of protecting Filipino workers.
"Employers and brokers are normally summoned to explain their side, and in most cases, clear evidence of abuse and violation of contracts prompts our government officials in Taiwan to recommend a ban or without future transactions of guilty brokers", said Filipino Scalabrini Father Edwin Corros.
The director of the Migrant Workers' Concern Desk in Taipei wrote that the Taiwan recruiters' letter was not only a "grave insult" to Filipino workers in Taiwan but also to the Philippine nation.
"The arrogance of some Taiwanese brokers in an attempt to exercise control even over the highest official of the land stunned us tremendously", he said.
The priest also called on Estrada to implement a special direct hiring program "to stop or at least abate exploitation and abuse of the Filipino migrant worker" in Taiwan and other countries of destination.
Of the 181,841 Filipino workers deployed during January-March this year by the Philippine Department of Labor, 11.5 percent went to Taiwan.
From the experience of Filipinos
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