Good news for OFWs

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TOOTS OPLE

LOST in the land of funny memes and grisly stories are some positive developments on the overseas employment front.

It has been a longtime dream of mine to see the establishment of an OFW hospital for our modern-day heroes. Well, a mini-version of this dream will soon be realized. Last week, a memorandum of agreement was signed to open the very first OFW ward at the Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital in Pampanga. This project is a partnership among ACTS OFW party-list Rep. John Bertiz III, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda, the Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Employment as well as its attached agency, the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA).

The OFW ward will accommodate OFWs who will be the beneficiaries of medical, diagnostic, psychological and sociological evaluation and assessment. The Pampanga-based regional hospital will also conduct pre-employment medical examination (PEME), a requirement for overseas job applicants. It will provide the necessary drugs and medicines as prescribed for the ailing OFWs and their immediate family members.

The labor department through the OWWA will be coming out soon with the implementing guidelines, to include organizing the entire process from the time the sickly OFW arrives from abroad. OWWA has its own ambulance and team assigned to our international airports, and it has a regional office in Central Luzon, which would make it easier to refer OFW patients and monitor their conditions while under the care of the Jose B. Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital.


Prospective patients only need to wait for the implementing guidelines to ensure a smoother flow of the referral system to be handled by OWWA. If this model works, the DoH and DoLE in partnership with ACTS OFW party-list will work on the establishment of OFW hospital wards across all regions.

There is also good news for our domestic workers in Qatar. Secretary Abdullah “Dabs” Mama-o, the presidential adviser on OFW affairs and Muslim concerns, provided this writer with a copy of the new Law No. 15 of 2017 on Domestic Workers in the State of Qatar issued by Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar. Under this new law, foreign domestic workers will be entitled to a three-week paid annual leave and the right to choose their preferred vacation schedule. After two years of service, domestic workers will be entitled to a return flight ticket to their home country.

The law requires that the end-of-service pay for domestic workers will not be less than the equivalent of three weeks of wages per year; that the employers are responsible for accommodations, food, health care; and that they must treat their workers with dignity.

Equally important, the Qatar law prohibits employers from assigning their domestic workers outside the country without the latter’s consent. If this happens, the workers shall have the right to cancel their work contracts. In this case, employers are required to ensure a complete end-of-service pay and a return flight ticket.

Secretary Mama-o welcomed the new law and noted the emphasis given by the Emir of Qatar that all domestic workers should be treated with dignity.

The third piece of good news involves the freeing up of appointment slots for passport applicants. Travel agencies are no longer entitled to fixed appointment slots at the Department of Foreign Affairs. According to the DFA, there will be no let-up in the cleansing and close monitoring of the online reservation system to cut the waiting time for passport appointments.

Assistant Secretary Frank Cimafranca of the Office of Consular Affairs said that 62,450 additional slots were made available last month after the DFA increased the consular offices’ appointment quotas, while the remaining 31,900 came from the cleaning up of bogus appointments by unscrupulous individuals.The DFA is also now looking at how to accommodate prospective OFWs whose applications would require valid passports in order to be processed by the POEA and the licensed recruitment agency concerned.

“Our policy now is that no OFW should be left without a job just because he couldn’t get a passport,” said RicarteAbejuela III, acting director of the Passport Division of the Office of Consular Affairs.

At the OWWA, Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac has this good news to share: the OWWA board chaired by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd has agreed to increase funding next year for two of its vital programs—the “BalikPinas, BalikHanapbuhay” program for returning distressed OFWs and the OFW Dependents’ Scholarship Program. The first program entails livelihood assistance for distressed workers while the scholarship program provides educational grants to qualified dependents belonging to lower-income OFW families.

To help distressed OFWs, the OWWA has increased the P10,000 in non-cash assistance to P20,000 as seed money to be availed of only after the applicant has successfully gone through the required entrepreneurship seminar, business plan submission, and site inspection.

It feels good to start the week with some good news. By the way, if you have good news of your own to share with ourOFWs,write to toots.ople@yahoo.com, and let’s give our modern-day heroes more reasons to feel hopeful about the national future.

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