DOLE to lead crackdown on illegal foreign workers in offshore gaming firms
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will lead an interagency task force that will verify and ensure that only foreigners with valid work permits are here in the country, nearly two months after the Senate sounded the alarm on the supposed spike in the number of foreign workers today, particularly those from China.
According to Dominique Tutay, head of DOLE’s Bureau of Local Employment, the task force that is expected to be rolled out within the month will specifically look into the employment situation of the accredited Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) in Metro Manila, and Clark and Subic in Pampanga province.
She noted that this was because they suspect that some foreign workers employed by the POGOs either do not possess alien employment permits (AEPs) or were only issued a visitor’s visa.
For a foreigner to legally work in the country, he or she must secure from DOLE an AEP, which will only be issued if there is no Filipino willing or competent enough to do the job being offered to him or her.
However, foreigners still get to work here even without an AEP since agencies such as the Department of Justice (DOJ), Bureau of Immigration (BI), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau, as well as the Professional Regulatory Commission also issue special work permits. In the case of the BI, this permit can be renewed once for another three months.
“That’s why when we review the rules, we will be pushing for a joint memorandum circular saying that special work permits issued by the BI [will be given] only once, and only to a specific category. The rest should be given an alien employment permit,” Tutay told reporters in an interview.
During DOLE’s budget hearing in September, Sen. Franklin Drilon expressed alarm over the supposed influx of Chinese workers in the country, which he said deprives Filipinos the chance to be gainfully employed.
Based on DOLE’s recent data, close to 116,000 AEPs were issued throughout the country since 2015.
Almost 52,000 of these AEPs were given to Chinese nationals engaged in such sectors as manufacturing, information and communications, and administrative and support services.
But Drilon said then that he learned from “industry people” that there are now around 400,000 foreign workers in Metro Manila alone, a third of which are supposedly in Parañaque’s Entertainment City.
While he did not provide an estimate as to the number of Chinese workers here, he said that these workers are allegedly hired by POGOs and business process outsourcing firms.
Drilon also reminded DOLE of the country’s experience in November 2016, when authorities found only 235 Chinese nationals with valid AEPs out of the 1,300 Chinese nationals who were arrested in the raid on an online gaming venture at Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Pampanga.
Through the task force—to be composed of officials from DOLE, DOJ, BI, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, Clark Development Corp. and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority—Tutay said that they would be able to harmonize government’s policies on foreign workers.
She added that it will also help put in place a mechanism where POGOs to be accredited by Pagcor, especially those catering to the Chinese market, would be required to set up a training institution for new hires.
“They are saying that [for workers to be hired] they should know how to speak Mandarin or able to read Chinese characters, so why not build the skills of the Filipino workers if there is really a market in this industry. The training forms part of their corporate social responsibility,” Tutay said.
She noted that they are also coordinating with Pagcor for a provision where it will revoke the license to operate of any POGO found to be in violation of employment rules, especially on the hiring of foreigners. As of September, there are 57 POGOs accredited by Pagcor.
As for aid projects, Tutay clarified that the sponsoring government is allowed under the law to bring in their own nationals so Filipino workers can “learn the design and technology that is being introduced to the country.” She pointed out though that the number of foreign workers in such projects is still limited to just 20 percent of the entire workforce. /je
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