HAVING recently joined the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) family (as well as the country’s roster of public servants) as Deputy Administrator, allow me to share with you some insights I have gathered as an “insider” in the newly reconstituted national government agency for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Since OWWA is the primary agency tasked “to serve and promote the rights, interest and welfare of the OFWs and their families,” it is our office where overseas workers usually go when things go wrong with their employers or employment conditions, especially when our OFWs arrive or return to the country.
It is not surprising then that the average volume of labor-related cases brought to OWWA’s attention by OFWs in distress (such as foreign employer’s violation of work contracts; OFWs maltreated by their foreign employers; medically ill OFWs who have either serious illnesses or those who are victims of work-related accidents; etc.) reach around 30 complaints a day.
But before these cases develop into full-blown legal battles, they must first undergo “SEnA” or the “single entry approach.” Under Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Department Order No. 107-10 instituting the SEnA, all OFW cases must undergo a 30-day mandatory period for the settlement of complaints through conciliation, and that the agency that receives the complaint is duty-bound to act on it and not refer it to another agency. During the SEnA, the OFW and the local deploying agency are encouraged to resolve their issues or enter into an amicable settlement rather than proceeding to litigation.
Based on a report prepared by the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) on the implementation of the SEnA program for the period of January 1 to November 30, 2016, OWWA disposed of and settled OFW cases within six days from date of filing. This is in line with Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello 3rd’s “marching order” to the OWWA to respond to and resolve all OFW complaints as quickly as possible. According to Secretary Bello, he wants to fulfill the promise of President Rodrigo Duterte to make life comfortable for our OFWs and to make the concerns of our “modern-day heroes” as his administration’s top labor priority.
To be able to react quickly, OWWA officials (including myself) adopt a “hands-on” management style, particularly on matters involving the welfare and protection of OFWs. This is done, for instance, by my personal intervention as a mediator during the SEnA process. From my own personal experience, the SEnA program lessens, if not eradicates, the “turo-turuan”system in filingcases where complaining OFWs are passed on from one office to another. Moreover, through this mandatory conciliation-mediation procedure, OWWA is able to provide immediate (even if partial) relief to our OFWs through financial assistance/settlement and other tangible aid.
In the past 11 months, OWWA handled requests for assistance (RFAs) resulting from various complaints, such as contract violations/substitutions, non-payment of wages and overtime pay, payment of end-of-service benefits, mistreatment, maltreatment, poor living conditions, retrieval of passport and/or travel documents.
From January to November 2016 alone, OWWA received a total of 5,382 cases and 5,557 RFAs. Out of the 5,382 cases, 5,067 were settled (with settlement rate of 91 percent) while out of the 5,557 RFAs, 5,273 were disposed (with a disposition rate of 95 percent), all within six days of filing, or within the 30-day mandatory period. Not a single case was dropped by any OFW complainant due to lack of interest.
Furthermore, the monetary benefits awarded to 5,671 OFWs was recorded at around P132 million, which proves that the SEnA process at the OWWA is highly effective and is able to provide immediate and positive relief to our distressed OFWs.
At OWWA, we train our frontliners in handling OFW cases. Since majority of our OFW clients are already distressed, we purposely avoid subjecting them to more anxiety and stress by taking the initiative to address their complaints and claims against erring agencies through mediation and conciliation. Our agency’s SEnA settlement and disposition rate proves that not all OFW labor concerns should end up in litigation.
The SEnA also serves as a reminder to the Philippine recruitment agencies (PRAs) to take into account the welfare and well-being of the workers they send abroad. PRAs must remember that OFWs are not mere commodities for export, and that their responsibility does not end with the OFW’s deployment to a foreign employer.
But independently of the Senna process, we at OWWA are always on our toes, ready to assist our OFWs in need. In fact, notwithstanding our logistical and budgetary limitations, we have been recognized as the “most helpful government agency to overseas Filipino workers” in a Social Weather Station (SWS) survey. And in this Year of the Rooster, OWWA aims to outdo itself for the sake of our OFWs and their families.