SINGAPORE maid agencies are being barred from taking out new licences to source for workers in the Philippines in a move by Manila to crack down on firms flouting its rules.
The country's embassy will limit the number of licensed companies to the current pool of about 100 and new applications will be rejected.
Philippine labour attache Vicente Cabe confirmed that the new policy came into effect on June 1 and is the next phase of efforts by the embassy to enforce its rules.
The Philippine government wants employers to bear domestic workers' placement fees, which cost $2,000 on average, or four months' salary.
It wants to prevent maids from having to pay for this.
Currently, employers pay agencies $400 to $600 to hire a Filipino maid, but the requirements will see this rising to between $2,400 and $2,600.
Mr Cabe said Singapore maid agencies are still breaking the rules by charging the workers placement fees, even though he has blacklisted about 10 of them in recent months. These firms have been stopped from bringing in domestic workers temporarily.
"By limiting the number of licensed agencies, I will be able to monitor them more closely and get them to follow the rules," he added.
Mr Cabe said another reason for the new policy is that some of the blacklisted agencies are getting around the rules by setting up new firms and applying for new licences. "With new licences, they will be able to recruit the workers anyway. This defeats the purpose of the suspension."
The embassy stepped up enforcement of the rules last year, although they were introduced more than a decade ago.
Maid agencies that spoke to The Straits Times anonymously for fear of backlash from the embassy said the new policy may actually force more players to break the rules instead of getting them to go by the book. One agent said: "The new policy will not stop new players from entering the market. Instead, they will just recruit workers illegally in the Philippines without a licence."
The agencies foresee that new players will bring in Filipino maids as tourists and the women will end up worse off as their rights will not be protected.
The maids comply with Singapore laws as they are working here legally with the work permits that their agents help them to apply for after they arrive.
But the women will not be registered by the Philippine government as overseas workers - meaning they are not entitled to the employment terms set by Manila, such as being charged no placement fees, having four days off a month and a monthly salary of at least $500. The Straits Times reported in April that some maid agencies are already bringing in Filipino maids as tourists.
They offer bribes of about $1,200 to immigration officers and airline ticketing staff to allow the women to leave the Philippines with "no questions asked".
Mr Cabe said airport immigration officers in the Philippines have been told to be vigilant in their checks and will not accept the bribes.
Ms Bridget Tan, chief executive of foreign workers' group the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), agreed that it is difficult for agents to bring in domestic workers illegally as Manila has cracked down on corrupt immigration officers and Singapore agents can be charged with trafficking in the Philippines.
Home has helped about 150 Filipino maids here to file complaints with Manila and they have received a total of about $100,000 from their agents in compensation. There are about 70,000 Filipino maids in Singapore.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 19, 2013
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