THE PHILIPPINE government is asking Filipina maids abroad to be its "friend" on Facebook, so it can better watch over their welfare.
In a memorandum circular issued on Feb 24, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said maids working outside the Philippines should have a Facebook account and add POEA and their recruiters as friends.
POEA also made it mandatory for recruitment and placement firms to have Facebook accounts, and to include in their list of friends all maids they are sending overseas.
Agencies without Facebook accounts will not be allowed to send maids abroad from this month, POEA said.
Its administrator, Hans Leo Cacdac, said the idea is for Facebook to serve as a communication platform to "ensure that the worker's interests are amply protected and their well-being and welfare are promoted".
Agencies are supposed to monitor their maids and then report cases of abuse or work-related disputes. Using Facebook is meant to make monitoring easier.
"Keeping in contact with domestic workers using Facebook is a good move," Vicente Cabe, the Philippines' labour attache in Singapore, told The Straits Times yesterday.
He said: "Facebook is free, and many domestic workers use it. It will be another way to communicate with the domestic workers and for them to contact the Philippine government officials if they need help."
Emmanuel Geslani, a consultant for the recruitment industry in the Philippines, said using Facebook makes sense since most maids already have a Facebook account.
"You can see from their posts whether they are happy, sad, if they are complaining about something," he said.
"What (POEA) wants is for the agencies to know immediately that there's a problem, so that they can react faster, not when the maids have already run away and have been at a welfare centre for two weeks," said Mr Geslani.
But he said convincing the maids to keep the government and recruiters as their Facebook friends presents a challenge.
The circular does not say what happens if maids, once deployed, unfriend POEA and their recruiters or deactivate their Facebook accounts.
POEA has been pushing recruiters to come up with ways to keep tabs on how Filipino workers abroad, especially maids, are being treated by their employers, as abuse remains a concern.
In a 2013 survey of about 3,000 maids in Hong Kong by the Mission for Migrant Workers, one in five said they had been beaten by their employers.
More than half said they had been verbally abused, and 6 per cent claimed to have been molested.
There are 1.5 million Filipina maids working abroad, about 70,000 of them in Singapore.
The Philippines is looking at bringing down the number of maids who come to Singapore by 20 per cent from about 1,000 each month, and laws are being proposed to cut by half the total number of maids abroad.
Get MyPaper for more stories.