Immigration screening has been stepped up, and those bound for jobs here without the proper papers have been stopped from leaving the country.
The amendments to the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 (REPUBLIC ACT NO. 8042) is aimed at improving the ‘protection and welfare’ of Filipino migrant workers, said the Philippine embassy here.
Changes to the law were passed last year, but the rules implementing the law were issued only on July 28, said a Philippine government website.
Manpower agencies in the Philippines said Singapore is not being specifically targeted, but the Philippine authorities want to put a lid on Filipinos leaving for jobs abroad without going through Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) procedures.
The POEA issues a Filipino seeking work overseas an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC), explained Mr Rodolfo Sabulao, the labour attaché at the Philippine embassy here.
To get that certificate, the job seeker must have supporting documents, including a standard employment contract verified by the Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) and authenticated by the Philippine embassy or consulate.
POEA also requires these job seekers to be trained, so as to prepare them for their overseas work stints.
Nine Singapore agents who spoke to The Straits Times said they have stopped bringing in Filipinas as domestic workers as it has become too troublesome.
The Straits Times understands that some agents have been getting around the regulations by working with Philippine travel agents to get the women out of their country as tourists first.
That done, the Singapore agents provide the women with an In-Principle Approval (IPA) letter or Letter of Notification from the Manpower Ministry, so that they can enter Singapore legally.
The domestic workers then sign local contracts provided by the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore), which is recognised by the Manpower Ministry.
Mr Sabulao said: ‘As far as the Philippine government is concerned, leaving the Philippines as a tourist, when the intention is to work overseas, is illegal, even if they have an IPA.’
Illegal or not, Filipinos are doing it. Seven in 10 Filipino maids here do not have POEA papers. This is an estimate by Ms Thelma Uanang, who runs Philquest, a POEA-registered Manila-based recruitment agency which sends about 65 maids a month here the legitimate way.
About 196,000 foreigners were here as maids as of last December, with Filipinas remaining popular because they speak English. This is why some agents still bring them in, even if the new rules may mean waiting longer for the maid to arrive – up to three weeks, as opposed to a week back when the rules were more lax.
Employers might also have to pay more: The contract verified by POLO secures for maids a salary of $540 and four days off a month, said Mr Sabulao.
But agents say employers here seldom agree to pay a new Filipino domestic worker more than $350 to $370. Some are also reluctant to give maids days off.
Mr Edmund Pooh of the Universal Employment Agency here said: ‘The Philippine government has good intentions, but on the other hand, they’re making it difficult for their people to get a job, as most employers won’t agree to such terms.’
But the Philippine government is sticking to its guns.
Said Mr Sabulao: ‘If workers are deployed and leave as tourists and don’t have proper documentation, nobody is held accountable. If they are injured, who will be liable?’