A UK-BASED human rights group has recommended that the Philippines curb recruitment fees for overseas Filipino workers (OFW), saying that such measures will make the process more fair and ethical.

“The Philippines has long had a reputation as being the origin country that offers the best protection for its nationals overseas, but it faces very little competition in this regard and its overseas workers continue to be subjected to unfair recruitment and serious abuses abroad,” FairSquare Co-Director Nicholas McGeehan said in a statement Wednesday.

The group also recommended that the Philippines establish an ethical recruitment framework governing licensing and regulation, pass a law to prohibit Philippine companies from selling the debt of migrant workers to foreign lenders, and open up recruiter licensing to new companies. 

The report noted that while recruitment agents in the Philippines are prohibited from charging placement fees for their services to domestic workers, seafarers, and overseas workers heading for countries where placement fees are also prohibited, other workers are charged placement fees equivalent to a month’s salary.

It claims agencies use “loopholes” to pass on recruitment expenses to workers by over-charging them for mandatory training, medical and accommodation costs, or by conspiring with lenders to charge the workers high interest rates on loans.

The report further alleges that the Philippine authorities “have done little to address” these loopholes. 

It also noted the introduction of a “hard-to-enter, easy-to-go” policy for agencies in 2002 which made it difficult for new applicants to be recruited, and easy for authorities to strip the licenses of those that have violated recruitment regulations.

However, the policy was described as having had the effect of “blocking new, ethical actors from entry, and prospective new agents are encouraged to buy pre-existing licenses, circumventing the entry requirements altogether.” 

The report looked into recruitment practices in Taiwan and the Philippines by interviewing more than 70 stakeholders and experts in those locations. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago