Overseas employment has become a multimillion-peso industry for those engaged in it – from the licensed recruitment agencies to travel agencies and medical clinics. Government agencies also gain revenues from the overseas employment program, from passport processing fees to mandatory memberships in various government institutions.
It seems the key word in relation to overseas workers’ deployment is “mandatory.” Nearly everything is mandatory. Memberships in PhilHealth and Pag-IBIG Fund are mandatory. An overseas Filipino worker (OFW) has to be a member of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration, and needs to obtain an overseas employment certificate (OEC) from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, especially as a new-hire, meaning a first-time OFW.
With such government agencies, at least these requirements are anchored on the law. What I find abhorrent as an OFW rights advocate are the strange and unscrupulous companies that are out to profit from an overseas job applicant’s dreams. There is a private company that is now doing this under the regulatory nose of the Department of Health and without any shred of approval from the Department of Labor and Employment.
WINSTON Q8 Certifications Solutions International, Inc. has a website that bears not a single name of its owners or country representatives. In www.winstonkw.com, the company describes itself as “a Philippine-based company focused on the development and delivery of medical certifications. The company aims to achieve a preeminent position in the certifications channel while representing the Ministry of Health in Kuwait.”
So, based on this description, are we to surmise that this company is the de facto extension of Kuwait’s Ministry of Health in the Philippines? Is that why its executives remain nameless, faceless on the company website? There are several legal questions, not to mention sovereignty concerns, arising from said description.
What exactly does WINSTON offer? Again, let me refer to its website. It says that there are now changes in the medical examination procedures. “Effective from the 8th of Aug 2016, all medical examinations for Kuwait-bound OFWs in the Philippines will be conducted through the confirmed Philippine DOH-accredited medical centers.” If WINSTON claims to be representing the Ministry of Health of Kuwait, then why in the world is it encroaching on Philippine public policy by announcing changes to medical examination procedures for Filipino overseas workers? Shouldn’t that announcement come from the Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Employment?
But wait, there’s more. Every Filipino aiming for a job in Kuwait would have to pay this mysterious company P8,400 (VAT included) through a BPI Express Assist account. However, the company does not state that this fee is meant for the medical screening procedures. No, it labels this fee as a “certification fee.” Prevailing rates for medical tests for outbound OFWs is at P2,500.
So out of the P8,400 to be paid per job applicant for Kuwait, how much goes to the medical clinic and how much remains in WINSTON’s pocket? No one knows. In fact, that is something that even the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) would have to guess.
Because here’s the thing, WINSTON will not be issuing receipts to its clients.
Consider these instructions as written down in the company website:
1. “Deposit the certification fees in the company bank account;”
2. “Fill in the registration information page and submit all required documents online at https://www.winstonkw.com/en/ph/register/.”
3. “After finishing registration, print application for later use in medical center.”
4. “[Afterward], you will get a registration confirmation email with your AID and login password to the registered email address.”
5. “At this point, the account is on HOLD and is being verified and proofed; it takes up to two days (usually the same day) for verification and proofing of an account.”
6. “After account verification, an activation email will be sent to the registered email address indicating the successful activation of the account, if any special information requested, we will contact you on the registered contact information.”
7. “Applicant will then head to the medical center or lab, which has been selected during the registration to perform the medical check-up.”
Nowhere in this process is there any mention of a receipt to be given to the payee, in this case a worker hoping to land a job in Kuwait. The website contains the names of only seven clinics for the applicant to choose from, all seven located in Metro Manila. For a company that is creating a monopoly over medical tests for Kuwait-bound OFWs, the least it could do is to come up with better-written instructions. But hey, here’s the catch. If the prospective first-time OFW doesn’t go through WINSTON, he or she can never get the Kuwait embassy’s approval for a visa.
How to get rich at the expense of our OFWs? Well, let WINSTON count the ways.