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MANILA: Filipino labor migration stakeholders on Friday welcomed the creation of a new agency to protect the well-being of Filipino workers abroad – 2.2 million people who contribute billions of dollars to the country’s economy.

Called “heroes of modern times,” foreign workers are one of the main engines of the country’s economic growth. Their remittances represent almost 10% of the Philippine GDP.

In 2021 alone, Filipino Overseas Workers, or OFW, contributed $ 28.8 billion to the Philippine economy, according to the country’s central bank.

A bill establishing the new agency, the Department of Migrant Workers, was promulgated by President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday, coinciding with Rizal Day – a Philippine national holiday commemorating 19th-century physician and man of letters José Rizal, who was an inspiration to the Philippine nationalist movement and is considered one of the country’s national heroes.

The new department is a fulfillment of Duterte’s 2016 presidential campaign pledge to bring together all relevant agencies to streamline government services and assistance to OFWs.

“With their own department to take care of their needs and protection, OFWs expect a more conscious and unified approach to advancing the rights and interests of migrants,” Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia said , Adnan Alonto, to Arab News.

As a preferred destination for Filipino migrant workers, Saudi Arabia will be the site to test the effectiveness of the new agency.

“As a home to nearly one million foreign workers, Saudi Arabia (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) will be the primary site for the implementation and effectiveness of the law,” Alonto said.

Under Foreign Secretary Sarah Lou Arriola told reporters the creation of the department reflects the country’s commitment to establish a historic migration management system in line with the 2018 Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration , known as GCM.

The GCM is an intergovernmental agreement under the auspices of the United Nations to cover all dimensions of international migration, including the protection of migrant workers.

“We are the first country in the world to adopt this. We are a pioneer and this is the first law in the world to include the CWM in its policy, ”said Arriola.

“We are very happy because it is a victory for our OFWs who have campaigned for this law for almost five years, since the start of the Duterte administration.

Raymond Mendoza, lead author of the Migrant Workers Department bill and chairman of the Philippine Trade Union Congress, said in a statement to Arab News that all of the needs of OFWs will be taken care of by the newly established agency.

“One department means there will be a harmonization of programs and the removal of unnecessary requirements that entice fixers and illegal recruiters. We are now removing the scavenger hunt for various transactions and needed help from agency to agency, ”he said.

“In addition, the law provides clear parameters for ethical recruitment, that is, the legal hiring of OFW in a fair and transparent manner that respects and protects their dignity and human rights.

But the creation of the new department has also drawn criticism.

Migrante International, a global alliance of OFW, said on social media that the department could create “more confusion” among workers, adding that there are fears the budget will prioritize administration over workers. legal and social services.

Representatives of Migrante International were not available for comment.

The Kanlungan Center Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the rights of migrant workers, expressed hope that the new agency will tackle labor migration issues, such as abuse and wage theft. .

“We look forward to and will continue to assert that the best interests and well-being of all migrants should (be) the primary concern of the new department and that the services and assistance migrants need will be provided to all moment, and that full labor protection must be maintained, ”Kanlungan told Arab News.

The group added that it hoped those appointed to manage the department “will have a track record of defending the rights of migrant workers and their families.”

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