INTERVIEW/Philippines top envoy calls for abolition of 'criminal' broker fees

11/24/2021 03:32 PM
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Migrant workers protest against the brokerage system outside MECO in 2019. CNA file photo
Migrant workers protest against the brokerage system outside MECO in 2019. CNA file photo

Taipei, Nov. 24 (CNA) 60,000 Philippine pesos -- That's the average placement fee paid by Filipino migrant workers to recruitment agencies, and something that the country's top envoy to Taiwan, Wilfredo B. Fernandez, hopes to abolish.

"60,000 pesos could mean one hectare of land in the provinces, so that those who can keep their land will have something they can build on, so that agriculture may flourish. It is only right that you just don't make exorbitant money on the sweat of the workers. That is un-Godly. That's criminal," Fernandez said during an interview with CNA Tuesday.

Filipino migrant workers coming to Taiwan have long called for the abolishment of placement fees, which they say are an excessive financial strain. Rates vary depending on which company issues a job order, with lower fees for family businesses and higher ones -- some as high as 120,000 Philippine pesos -- for bigger companies, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Fernandez, who assumed his current position as Chairman and Resident Representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) on Sept. 1, suggests the more ambitious reform of removing brokers entirely.

"Remove the recruitment agencies in Manila, so there will be no placement fee. Recruitment should be done on a government-to-government basis," said the de facto Philippines ambassador to Taiwan.

Asked about his top priorities as MECO Chairman, Fernandez is keen to stress the importance of bilateral investments.

"The number one priority is to promote investments, as you know very well, we are closest to you, we are next-door neighbors."

Wilfredo B. Fernandez, chairman and resident representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office. CNA photo Nov. 24, 2021
Wilfredo B. Fernandez, chairman and resident representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office. CNA photo Nov. 24, 2021

He is also interested in exploring technology transfers, especially related to chips, solar panels, 5G towers, and medical treatments for cancer and COVID-19.

In particular, a COVID-19 test manufactured by Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) that can provide a result within one hour would be very helpful for Filipinos returning home, Fernandez said, as they would not have to check into hotel quarantine to wait for the results of their tests.

"We ask for the help of ITRI to please expedite the manufacturing of this kind of test. This will be very helpful," Fernandez said.

Responding to Fernandez's comments on broker fees, Paul Su (蘇裕國), deputy head of the Workforce Development Agency Cross-Border Workforce Management Division under Taiwan's Ministry of Labor, told CNA his agency was open to talks on expanding direct hiring.

"We still also need to consider the demand of the market," Su said. "We already have direct hiring and we welcome talks to expand in that area."

However, due to the ease of having many processes in one place, such as taking the workers to mandatory health checks and filling out application paperwork, many Taiwanese employers choose to use the services of manpower agencies for the convenience.

There are a total of 144,074 Filipino migrant workers currently in Taiwan, according to Ministry of Labor statistics at the end of October.

(By William Yen)

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