Local recruitment agencies engaged in the deployment of Filipino household workers are now in a state of flux. Their counterparts in the Middle East and Asia have started to react to the new policy of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration raising the minimum salary for Filipino DHs from US$200 to US$400, with no placement fees to be charged to the worker.

I have seen a few examples of how foreign agents replied to the new set of rules. They were quick to say that they have no option except to hire foreign household workers from Indonesia and other countries as well. Indonesian maids are our nearest competitors and undoubtedly they will take over this market.

The upside is that the government reduces the number of welfare cases accruing from undesirable employers and unscrupulous “brokers”. The downside is that this also affects stable and relatively humane markets in Asia that absorb our domestic helpers who are able to apply and go there on a salary deduction scheme.

The government knows that this new policy will “kill” the overseas demand for Filipino household workers in many countries around the world. An association of recruitment agencies has already organized a rally against the US$400 wage level. My take on this is that these recruitment agencies would have to read and accept the writing on the wall. It is hard to argue against better wages and more decent conditions for Filipino domestic helpers. The recruitment industry can petition the courts for a Temporary Restraining Order but then government does have a mandate to do what’s best for our workers.

Sadly, some recruiters must also take the blame for this policy. When times were good, they have forgotten the humanitarian side of their endeavor. Rarely did we hear association leaders fight for the rights of domestic helpers, openly and with passion, in instances that their own compatriots suffered abuse. They have also failed to regulate their ranks, isolating or even spurning those who continue to give their sector a bad name.

This new policy is really a bold initiative on the part of the labor department. I just hope that this will not open the doors further to a growing underground economy based on the deplorable practice of illegal recruitment and human trafficking. We also need to look at migration issues within our borders. It would be a good idea to raise salary levels of domestic helpers in the country and to strengthen even further tech-voc training opportunities for our unemployed menfolk.

This is not just an employment issue, but a gender one as well.