Bello denies while industry leader bares talks with China

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Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III

CONFLICTING statements have emerged from Philippine government officials and recruitment industry leaders about the deployment of Filipinos to work as domestic helpers in China.

While Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Thursday denied that Manila and Beijing were holding talks about hiring Filipino domestic workers for the mainland, Alfredo Palmiery, president of the  Society of Hong Kong Accredited Recruiters of the Philippines (SHARP), said Philippine officials were batting for a minimum salary of US$1,000 (P50,273.28 or HK$7,780) for Filipino workers.

Presently, the minimum allowable wage in Hong Kong is $4,310 and migrant workers have been pressing the government to hike it to $5,000.

“There were no such negotiations. No discussions took place, or taking place, or will take place about this,” Bello said.

Wednesday statements

On Wednesday, however, a text message by Bello sent to Hong Kong News confirmed a meeting between officials of China and DOLE Undersecretary Dominador Say

“They discussed the possible deployment of Filipino household service workers to China,” Bello said.

Say said the deployment, once finalized, will be limited to five major Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen.

The labor official said a delegation from Beijing will arrive in the country in September to firm up negotiations for the deployment guidelines.

“They said they decided to approach us since there are many Chinese families who could now afford to hire Filipino HSWs,” Say said.

The Chinese officials, Say added, cited the “the religious and peaceful culture” of Filipinos as well as their proficiency in English as among the reasons why they are preferred as HSWs.

“They will not have approached us if they are not serious with their desire to hire Filipinos,” Say said.

Possible

Asked  on Thursday , if it was possible that officials from Beijing had met with another official of the Department of Labor and Employment, Bello said it was.

“That is possible, there’s no gag order here,” he said.

Moreover, when Bello was asked whether the mainland would be an attractive place for Filipinos seeking overseas employment as household service worker, he said “why not?”

Information from China

In a separate interview, Palmiery said  he was informed by a recruiter in mainland China  that a provision in the mainland last year allowed the hiring of foreign domestic helpers only in two cities – Guangdong, and Shanghai.

“The hiring was limited to expats in two cities, but now they revised this policy to expand to five areas and we were told the Philippine officials are negotiating for a minimum of US$1,000 for Filipino household service workers,” he said.

However, even if negotiations would be successful, Palmiery said deploying Filipinos to the mainland would entail elaborate arrangements.

“Of course we can not stop anyone from choosing to go to China instead of Hong Kong or staying in Hong Kong, but we are more concerned about the training of our workers. They should have some Mandarin language training,” he said.

Palmiery also said recruitment agencies must also come up with ethical recruitment models or practices when sending Filipino workers to China.

“Sorting this out could take some time,” he said.

Previous meeting

In a meeting with the Filipino community here in July, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said the Philippines was negotiating with China and other countries for the deployment of Filipino workers.

He added that opening new markets for OFWs could improve the working conditions of Filipinos in their present host countries.

Manila, he said, was working hard to open these new opportunities for OFWs so they could choose the best place for them.

Cayetano said the negotiations between the Philippines and China were continuing.

However, he said he did not know when the negotiations would wrap up and refused to divulge more details about the discussions.

Before coming to Hong Kong last month, Cayetano and his delegation were in Beijing.

There are an estimated 200,000 Filipinos living and working in Hong Kong, and some 190,000 of them are domestic helpers.

The top complaint of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong, however, was the long working hours, with many of them saying they work between 12 hours and 18 hours a day to serve their employers.

 

Recommendations

In a previous interview, Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre confirmed that he submitted recommendations to Bello about the possibility of allowing Filipinos to seek employment in China.

Should there be an agreement, Dela Torre said this would mean high-skilled and low-skilled Filipino workers could soon go to China and be employed there.

Those who may find work are engineers, tutors, nurses, and household service workers. Presently, there are Filipino engineers in China.

“There are labor opportunities in China and we should at least look at those before we make any decision to open the labor market formally,” Dela Torre had said.

Warning

Earlier, Consul General Julius Flores said Filipinos seeking employment in the mainland should wait for the guidelines to be firmed up as foreign domestic helpers are still prohibited from working in China.

“While there is a demand, it is not yet allowed. There are no legal contracts (for foreign domestic helpers) yet,” Flores said.

He said both employers and employees who will violate the law will be slapped with a minimum penalty of about P37,450 each.

Foreign workers would also be detained while waiting for their deportation to their home countries.

Filipinos illegally employed as household helpers in China are mostly overstaying workers whose contracts and visas have expired. They earn between P29,960  and P44,940 a month.

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