Migrant workers

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

It’s easy to think that Filipinos who toil in distant shores have forgotten the Philippines.

There are, after all, so many reasons to fall out of love with our home country, from the traffic to the brazen corruption and in between, the warts and all.

But this is actually not the case. Our migrant workers, while fulfilling their destinies elsewhere, have pieces of their heart and soul that will always stay here in our motherland.

As we celebrated National Migrant Workers Day on Friday, I thought of the many migrant workers I have met during visits to other countries. They are everywhere – in airports, restaurants and pubs, behind the wheels in commuter buses or limousine services or in the middle of the vast oceans aboard cruise ships and cargo liners.

I am in awe of their hard work and commitment to be able to earn a living, despite the heartache of being away from their loved ones.

Migrant Workers’ Day is celebrated in the Philippines every June 7 to commemorate the signing into law of the Migrant Workers Act of 1995.

May this occasion remind us of what the law provides our migrant workers.

First and foremost, the law serves as a framework to advance the welfare of our migrant workers. “The State shall deploy overseas Filipino workers only in countries where the rights of Filipino migrant workers are protected.”

Protection can come through existing labor and social laws protecting the rights of migrant workers; existence of multilateral conventions, declaration or resolutions relating to the protection of migrant workers and bilateral agreements that protect the rights of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Protection against illegal recruitment

The law also mandates the government to protect our migrant workers from illegal recruitment, which it defines as any act of “canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilizing, hiring, procuring workers and includes referring, contact services, promising or advertising for employment abroad, whether for profit or not, when undertaken by a non-license or non-holder of authority contemplated under Article 13(f) of Presidential Decree No. 442, as amended, otherwise known as the Labor Code of the Philippines.”

The recruitment by a non-licensed recruiter of employment abroad to two or more persons in exchange for a fee also falls under the scope of illegal recruitment.

Protection from abuse

The Department of Foreign Affairs, according to the law, is tasked to make an assessment of rights and avenues of redress under international and regional human rights systems that are available to Filipino migrant workers who are victims of abuse.

It’s a good law and there are many more provisions which all aim to help our migrant workers enjoy decent and livable lives in their host countries.

Against this backdrop, we continue to hear cases of abuse of OFWs.

In 2020, for instance, there were 23,714 documented cases of contract violations involving the maltreatment of OFWs, according to an article published by the Harvard International Review, citing data from the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices.

Indeed, the government must step up efforts against the problems our OFWs continue to face, including abuse and illegal recruitment.

We must treat our migrant workers as the modern-day heroes that they are.

Tres Marias

It’s good that Filipino organizations are also helping advance the welfare of OFWs in different parts of the world as they recognize that the Philippine government cannot do it alone.

One such organization is Tres Marias, which was founded on April 22, 2020 by three Lebanon-based Filipina migrant domestic workers. One of them is Myra Aragon whom I met during the pandemic when I went to Beirut to cover the repatriation of distressed OFWs affected by the economic collapse in Lebanon. Myra did not board the flight back to Manila because she wanted to stay and help her remaining kababayans in the Middle Eastern country.

Myra and I have stayed in touch. She said the situation in Lebanon has not changed for the better. In fact, it has even worsened now because of the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

But amid the challenges, she and other migrant workers channel their energy into positive initiatives. This was how Tres Marias was born.

It’s an initiative she put together with two friends initially as a swift response to the economic collapse and COVID-19 lockdown in Lebanon. They provided immediate assistance to distressed OFWs and other migrants.

Beyond that, Tres Marias empowers migrant workers through educational and skills training.

They also actively advocate for social justice, fair working conditions, salaries and they fight against workplace harassment.

Migrant children

They also recognize the importance of every migrant child’s well-being, Myra shares with me.

Thus, they work to help every migrant child be able to have a nurturing environment in a foreign land.

“Our overarching goal is to enhance the quality of life for every migrant worker in Lebanon, those aspiring to return home and, specifically, to ensure that every migrant child experiences a deep sense of belonging,” Tres Marias said.

It’s a good initiative which we hope to see in many other countries across the globe. Any initiative that would help support our migrant workers is a welcome development.

But at the same time, I also long for the day when Filipinos won’t be forced to leave their home country to toil in distant lands just to survive.

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Follow her on X, formerly Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen (Iris Gonzales) on Facebook.

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