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Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations
Hon. Patricia Sto. Tomas
Secretary of the Department of
Labor and Employment
Migration and Development: The Philippine Experience
Migration is a natural phenomenon.
Throughout history, people have moved for adventure and new experiences; in search of a better climate or opportunities or to escape war, disease or oppression. Sovereign boundaries have complicated man’s propensity to migrate. Recent events have not contributed to easing migration tensions. Despite these obstacles, people will continue to move such that even as we speak, more than 200 million people – equivalent to the size of Brazil – already live in countries other than their land of birth. This movement will be pursued – sometimes beyond what is considered legal or regular. It is in this context that in the early 70s, the Philippines opted for managed migration.
Many Filipinos have become permanent settlers in other countries. But in the past 30 years, out-migration has largely been contract migration or migration for temporary work. This movement is characterized by the following: driven by demand in a destination country; contract-based and detailing terms and conditions of work approved by the Philippine government; mindful of both cultural and regulatory restrictions of both the Philippines and the destination country; and covered by protection mechanisms and structures set up by the Philippine government.
Before I describe these characteristics in greater detail, let me get the statistics out of the way.
To date, there are almost 7.5 million Filipinos living and working out of the Philippines.
Two and a half million are in the US as permanent migrants. The rest are in 150 countries all over the world with the Middle East and Asia accounting for another 2 million. About 300,000 are in ocean-going vessels, supplying 1/3 of the world’s maritime manpower requirements. Together, these workers remit $12 B annually through the banking channels, roughly equivalent to 13% of our Gross Domestic Product. Annually, about 1 million Filipinos are recruited for overseas work, whether on a rehire or original hire basis.
Let me go back to the characteristics of contract migration.
A. Driven by Demand for Destination Countries
There are more than 6000 foreign employers who hire about a million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) annually. The process for hiring OFWs begins with prospective employers submitting recruitment agreements to our labor attaches and foreign service officers overseas for verification and authentication. The agreement is usually between the foreign employers and the Filipino intermediary who answers for and in behalf of the foreign principal in Philippine administrative and judicial bodies. These employers are then accredited by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). These employers may be delisted or blacklisted for violation of recruitment regulations. Some employers are held up for recognition for exemplary behavior towards OFWs in ceremonies held every two years.
B. Contract-Based and Consistent with Standards Set by the Philippine Government
An OFW who leaves the country is processed by the POEA under standards that cannot be lower than double what a comparable job in the Philippines is offered. Almost always, terms and conditions of work are 5 to 8 times higher than the national minima. The same contract provides for terms and conditions of work other than wages, such as rest days, overtime pay, repatriation costs and others. When contract terms are not honored, the local intermediary becomes liable for all unmet conditions under the standard contract for land-based and sea-based workers.
C. Recognizes and Respects the Culture and Regulations
of Both Source
All OFWs are required to undergo country-specific pre-departure orientation seminars on the culture and regulations of the destination countries. This way, if the worker finds these restrictions too stringent, he or she may opt not to leave. Once there, however, a worker is obliged to observe national customs even if the same do not obtain in the Philippines. Example: Middle East restrictions on alcohol and dress code.
D. OFWs Covered by Protective/assistive Mechanisms On-site Set Up by the Philippines
There are 200 labor officers all over the world meant to specifically assist OFWs. Some of these officers are lawyers, doctors, social workers and trained welfare officers. They seek to help our OFWs sort out employer-employee problems. Most offer counseling, legal assistance, repatriation, health and psychological support. OFWs are also the subject of skills upgrading courses on-site that include computer usage, culinary skills, entrepreneurship courses and other interventions that prepare them for eventual return. The labor officers form part of the Philippine Foreign Service establishment who provide the support structure/mechanism for helping Filipino nationals abroad.
E. Covered by Increasing Bilateral Discussions/Negotiations
To date, the Philippines has 10 labor agreements, 11
social security agreements and 38 recognition of credentials/certificates
by the destination countries. At any given year, discussions are held
between the Philippines and the 10 destination countries with the highest
concentration of Filipinos in their territories.
These characteristics evolved through time. The framework
of the Philippine Overseas Employment Program has, however, remained
2) Protection of Workers and their Families - The movement of Filipinos to overseas worksites is wired to the national nervous system. Example is the case of OFWs Tarogoy, dela Cruz and Flor Contemplacion. This is why OFWs are insured against death, disabilities and health hazards. OFW families are organized into family circles and are extended assistance by family welfare officers; dependents become eligible for secondary and collegiate scholarships; small and medium-scale businesses are encouraged through loans among those left behind to encourage good savings and investment habits as part of a campaign for sound financial planning.
3) Reintegration - while many workers seek to recontract, after their initial contracts, part of the orientation is that reintegration will eventually come and preparations must be undertaken for this eventuality. This includes preparing for a new job or entreprenuership and seeking to strengthen the family through social interventions, such as family circles, family days, etc.
There can be no denying that the link between migration
and development in the Philippines is strong. And the link is not just
between migration and development of the country but migration and development
of the individual and his family. It must be noted that:
* dysfunctional behavior noted in some OFW families due to absence of one parent and influx of additional money to which family is not accustomed.
* educational and training behavior now takes into consideration
not just local employment demand. For instance, increased enrollment
in nursing after accelerated demand noted internationally. Stress cyclical
nature of global demand.
For the moment, we seem to have met with some success in mitigating problems of migration and building on the positives that it has engendered. But this is what managed migration has allowed us to do: calibrate our responses to the changing nature of national and international labor demand. In the end, this is what managed migration is all about: continuing vigilance about the kinds of problem that migration outflows/inflows bring and a will to address these issues as they arise so that migration becomes not just a link to the development of a place or a society but also of the individuals that make up the polity.
One last observation: I believe that protection of workers
is the best marketing tool for countries where workers migrate temporarily.
When host countries see that countries care about their nationals, it
becomes easier for them to see the merit of employing them because they
make for better, more productive workers.
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