Labor Migration in 2009: A Terrible Year to Be an OFW

Global Crisis

Massive layoffs abroad also affected many OFWs this year. At the peak of the global financial crisis, many Filipino migrant workers were either forced to resign or were terminated. Those who were retained in companies that retrenched workers were made to work with meager compensation.

Jane Corpuz-Brock, spokesperson of Migrante-Australia, told Bulatlat that in their country, they rarely had cases of contract substitution because the signed, legal contract itself already contains exploitative provisions. This year, they handled 25 cases of OFWs in Sydney, an increase from the 15 cases last year. Most exploited, she said, are migrant workers working in manufacturing industries and nurses. Brock stressed that the financial crisis has also been used by giant companies in Australia as an excuse to fire unionists.

In Japan, companies have sugar-coated the hiring of cheap labor with the Training System. Under this labor scheme, Migrante-Japan Coordinator Butch Pongsos said in an interview, most companies in Japan hire skilled migrant workers as trainees. Trainees would have to do the same job as regular workers but receive only half of the latter’s salary. The said labor scheme also applies to nurses who are working in Japan under the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement. They are receiving only half the salary of a regular nurse until they pass the nursing license examinations, which is difficult to pass since it is administered in Nippongo. As for entertainers working in Japan, many are forced to marry Japanese locals to get a permanent resident permit. But with the patriarchal society prevailing in Japan, Pongsos said, there have been many cases of domestic abuse.

Domestic violence is a continuing problem in Hongkong, where many Filipinos are working as domestic helpers. Emman Villanueva, secretary general of United Filipinos in Hongkong, said they are providing shelter to roughly 30-40 Filipino domestic helpers a year. OFWs who have decided to file cases against their abusive employers are not allowed to work, which means that they have no means of supporting their everyday needs. Worse, Villanueva said the Philippine government is “missing in action” even in providing legal aid because it is the Hongkong government that provides lawyers for OFWs in distress.

After repatriation, distressed and retrenched workers confront more problems at home. In order to avail of the promised P50,000 ($1,081) loan assistance from the government, they had to pass through the eye of a needle.

The National Livelihood Support Fund was launched by OWWA to supposedly assist OFWs who were retrenched. But it comes with stiff requirements and retrenched OFWs have no means of subsistence while waiting for the approval and release of the loan. In a previous interview, Migrante International chairman Garry Martinez said the stiff requirements only shows the government’s reluctance in helping OFWs. He added that the loan will not address the incurred debts of OFWs, the interest of which continues to accumulate.

No Relief in Sight

Yet, the Arroyo administration is still hell-bent in intensifying labor export. Proposed bills such as House Bill 287 or the Labor Export Policy pending in the House of Representatives are designed to facilitate the export of labor, much like the export of a commodity. But the Arroyo government barely has the infrastructure and the staff to cope with the aggressive export of labor. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration does not maintain offices abroad nor does it have supervision over labor attaches, who are under the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). Supposedly tasked with assisting OFWs who experience problems with their working conditions are the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO), under the DFA. Migrante said in a report that there are only 34 POLO offices worldwide with 230 staff to serve millions of OFWs.

Furthermore, OFWs were denied genuine representation in the House of Representations when the Migrante Sectoral Party was delisted by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Migrante vowed to fight the ruling up to the Supreme Court.

Even as the May 2010 election is fast approaching, Migrante International still sees no end in sight to the serious problems affecting OFWs, unless the succeeding administration effectively addresses the economic roots of forced migration. (

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  1. what if,if the person died in northern marianas island,and the body is still in the morgue, and the wife/or the husband is willing to go to get the body,no prob aboutthe ticket,the only prob is the permit to enter in the said country what is the first action they will do to get a permit as soon as possible?

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