The Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Singapore presented its 2020 accomplishments, new labor policy issuances and return protocols in the virtual meeting with the Filipino community in the city-state organized by the Philippine Embassy and POLO on February 28, 2021. Dubbed as “Ugnayan”, the virtual meeting, led by Ambassador Joseph Del Mar Yap, was the first of the series of community engagements planned by the Embassy for the year.

Reporting for POLO, Labor Attaché Saul De Vries said that the COVID-19 situation scaled down POLO operations in 2020 but it did not deter the office from providing essential services to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Singapore. He said that despite the pandemic, POLO managed to conduct 22 skills trainings, 3 financial literacy sessions, 5 physical and mental health and wellness activities, 2 reintegration program-related events, 2 awareness programs on OWWA, SSS and Pag-IBIG benefits and 2 Post-Arrival Orientation Seminars for domestic workers. These were conducted face-to-face or virtually in consideration of the safe distancing and health protocols of the Singapore government.

Through the Abot Kamay ang Pagtulong program of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE-AKAP), POLO also distributed US$200 cash assistance to each of the 1,820 OFWs who lost jobs or experienced wage reduction due to COVID-19. In addition, 169 OFWs who contracted COVID-19 were given the same amount of financial support by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), De Vries reported.

De Vries added that POLO and OWWA Singapore handled 505 labor and welfare-related cases, directly assisted in the repatriation of 303 OFWs, sheltered 83 distressed female workers and visited 35 sick OFWs confined in various hospitals.

POLO verified 16,922 contracts, processed 5,190 overseas employment certificates and enrolled 14,073 OFWs in OWWA. These figures are significantly lower compared with previous year records, which De Vries attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Circuit Breaker Measures of the Singapore government.

De Vries also said that the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has lifted the temporary suspension of the deployment of newly-hired nurses, nursing aides and nursing assistants subject the annual 5,000 deployment cap. The POEA likewise issued interim guidelines on land-based OFW deployment requiring Philippine recruitment agencies or their principals to provide, among others, free COVID-19 test and quarantine to OFWs.

In Singapore, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) issued new work pass regulations increasing the minimum qualifying salaries for S-Pass and E-Pass to S$2,500 and S$4,500, respectively. The job advertising duration for S-Pass and E-Pass applications was doubled from 14 days to 28 days to provide local jobseekers more time to respond to job openings and for employers to seriously evaluate their applications, De Vries said quoting MOM.

Meanwhile, Welfare Officer Marivic Clarin presented in the same meeting the protocols for Filipinos returning to the Philippines. OFWs should register with the Philippine Red Cross for swab testing and OWWA for quarantine and local transportation at least three days prior to flight to the Philippines. They should also download the Traze app for contact tracing, fill up health declaration form and undergo health screening upon arrival. Swab testing will be done on the sixth day of arrival, the result of which will be emailed to OFWs. Those who tested negative will be allowed to go to their final destination where they will complete their 14-day quarantine. COVID-19 positive OFWs will be transferred to isolation facility.

Returning non-OFWs such as students, balikbayans and tourists are also required to undergo similar arrival protocols. The costs of quarantine, swab test and transportation, however, are to their own account, Clarin said.

The virtual meeting was also attended by Embassy officers including Consul General Adrian Bernie Candolada, Consul Laarni Zorayda Gandarosa, Vice Consuls Jhullie Ann Beniahan and Renee Gayle Chua, Defense and Armed Forces Attaché Col. Virgilio Luna, Commercial Attaché Rosa Katrina Banzon, Asssitant Labor Attaché Macy Monique Maglanque, SSS Representative Lucille Blesilda Simbol and Pag-ibig Representative Christian Jan Oliveros who also presented updates from their respective offices. ###