SINGAPORE - Some employers here hiring new domestic workers may be left high and dry for at least the next three weeks, as the Philippine government has suspended the processing of exit permits for Filipinos hoping to work overseas.
The Department of Labour and Employment in the Philippines said in a recent notice that the suspension would last from Monday (Nov 13) to Dec 1 while "persistent reports of illegal recruitment activities" are investigated. The suspension may be extended if needed.
New applications for overseas employment certificates, which are needed by Filipino workers to leave the country for work, will not be processed during this time - except for workers hired by international organisations and diplomats, seafarers hired by agencies, government hires and those returning from home leave. This means workers other than maids will also be affected.
The suspension applies to workers heading to all countries, not just Singapore, said Mr Ramon Pastrana, labour attache at the Philippine embassy here.
Employment agents said they were caught by surprise. Some had already booked plane tickets for maids to fly to Singapore this week, in anticipation of the certificates being approved.
Maids who travelled to Manila from other provinces to prepare to head overseas are also stranded there.
Mr Low Moon Heng, director of Passion Employment Agency, said he has three maids who were supposed to fly out this week to Singapore, and another four set to arrive later this month. His agency is providing boarding for them in Manila while they wait for further news.
"We have to explain the situation to the employers, and ask them to not send the previous maid back first, make other childcare arrangements, or hire a maid from another country," he said.
Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) president K. Jayaprema said the certificate is the last step before a worker can work overseas. Before that, the contract would have been verified at the Philippine embassy here, and the maid would have attended pre-departure briefings in the Philippines.
Her group has appealed to the Philippine authorities to at least process applications where the maids have completed the rest of the process and are just waiting for the final green light to leave.
There are an estimated 180,000 Filipinos working in Singapore. The suspension affects not just maids but also other workers, such as information technology professionals and nurses.
PeopleWorldwide Consulting's managing director David Leong said he had planned to place about 30 nurses and therapists in jobs here by January, but may now have to delay the deployments.
He added that it is not clear how the suspension helps to expose illegal recruiters.
"Workers who apply for the certificate would have gone through the official, legal process," he said.
For local employer and mother of three Ong Hse-Yin, 40, the timing could not be worse.
Her previous domestic helper went home last week due to a family emergency, and she had been expecting a new helper to arrive at the end of this week.
"My older kids are starting their school holidays so I have to find a Plan B, someone to watch over them during the day," she said.
For now, her 70-year-old mother will be going to her home every day to look after the older children, aged 10 and nine, while the youngest child, aged four, attends childcare, said Ms Ong, who works in the banking industry.
"We're living day to day and hoping there will be good news that they will start processing those ready-to-go cases," she said.