Migrants unite and resist attacks against our rights!
By Garry Martinez Chairperson,
Migrante International July 5, 2011,
University Hotel, UP Diliman, Philippines
Distinguished speakers, Ms. Eni Lestari, Dr. Irene Fernandez, Wahu Kaara, Atty. Joseph Entero, Anisur Rahman Khan, Lucy Pagoada, fellow migrants, colleagues and friends, greetings of solidarity! To our guests from different countries, welcome to Manila!
I am Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International, global alliance of overseas Filipino workers in at least 200 countries around the world. I was an undocumented Filipino migrant worker in South Korea for 12 years before I decided to become a full-time volunteer for my organization. As an OFW, I had personally experienced the hardships, implications, the political and socio-economic causes and effects of forced migration.
I have been asked to talk to you about the issues and struggles confronting migrants worldwide and the resistance of the global migrant movement against attacks on our rights and dignity. To better understand this context and topic, allow me to start my presentation with a simple yet significant statement:
The phenomenon of labor migration is not a tool for development but the result of the increasing under-development of nations who have long-ago opened their economies to neo-liberal policies under the banner of globalization. The myth of migration as a tool for development has long been discredited in that it has resulted in the further commodification of the labor force of underdeveloped nations at the expense of genuine national development.
As the global alliance of Filipino migrant organizations, it is in this context that we stand firm in our criticism of neoliberal globalization and its general agenda that promotes labor export over the rights and protection of migrant workers and their families.
Why then is labor export being intensified with even other poorer countries following suit? The answer is simple.
Governments are driven to increase the billions of overseas remittances they need to fuel their bankrupt economies. Moreover, puppet governments resort to labor export to suppress unrest brought about by severe economic crisis.
Labor export has long been promoted in poorer countries as a source of foreign exchange and remittances and to quell unrest brought about by severe economic crisis. The policy of labor export has been adopted by developing countries to solve the constant problems of unemployment and underemployment, landlessness and massive poverty caused by the continued subservience of governments to IMF-World Bank dictates, controlled mainly by rich industrialized countries such as the
United States. Governments of underdeveloped and developing countries enact policies to accelerate labor migration, reorient education and training programs towards meeting the demands of labor-receiving countries, and negotiate with governments of host countries to facilitate the transfer of their workforce to as many labor-destination countries possible around the world.
It is interesting to note that the general theme of neoliberal globalization in recent years revolved principally around the utilization of labor export and so-called shared responsibilities of nations to promote the demand for cheap labor. For instance, the Global Forum on Migration and Development’s (GFMD) corporate-like approach to the policy of migration encourages the reliance of host counties on short term labor contracts to minimize their responsibilities and avoid risking their own nation’s economic stability. The GFMD came about during the United Nations’ High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development in September 2006. However, its conception may be dated back to the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, when neoliberal globalization gave birth to the convening of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade Mode 4 or GATS Mode 4 in 2005. Through GATS, the exportation of natural persons and services was included in trade agreements between nation states, and the demand for skilled workers by highly-developed countries rose to unprecedented levels.
In the Philippines, the Department of Labor and Employment records 4,500 overseas Filipino workers who migrate daily to work. Every year, at least 400,000 are added to the Philippine labor force, with no jobs opportunities available but the option to work for cheap labor abroad. In 2010, OFW remittances have brought in $18 billion to the national revenue, more or less 12 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. The Philippines ranked as the fourth biggest recipient of migrant remittances worldwide, next only to the $25.5 billion of India, the $24.2 billion of Mexico and the $21 billion of China. It is no wonder then that over the recent years, the Philippines has become a model for other third world countries to emulate.
Labor export began in the Philippines more than 3 decades ago, when the Marcos regime attempted to cushion the impacts of rising unemployment in 1974. Since then, it has rapidly evolved into a major economic policy adopted and embraced by past and present administrations. After more than three decades, the Philippine labor export policy is now highly regarded worldwide as a “model” in labor out-migration not only for the sheer number of workers it deploys annually and the amount of remittances it generates yearly, but also for its so-called rights-based approach to migration management. Many underdeveloped and developing countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa, including poorer countries in Europe, have also adopted similar labor-export policies with the same motivation.
The Philippine government is hailed worldwide for introducing migration policies that allegedly ensure the protection of its workers abroad and for displaying “good practices” that promote migrant workers’ protection. Its pre-departure orientation program (PDOS) was commended as a useful model for offering protection that “begins at home”. In addition, the Philippine government is highly praised for its attempt to work with labor-receiving governments to formulate both formal and informal agreements meant to ensure that migrant workers conditions are within nationally and internationally-accepted standards.
These, however, are more wishful thinking than reality. While it is a fact that the Philippine government has been party and signatory to different conventions and has ratified and enacted laws
and policies involving the protection of migrant workers, the implementation of such has been found lacking and incapable.
The truth is, OFWs are plagued with an assortment of issues and problems throughout the entire migration cycle yet the Philippine government has barely done any decisive action to support and protect its migrant workers and their families. Of present, there are 122 Filipino migrant workers in death row, 7,000 in jail and tens of thousands stranded and awaiting repatriation. Millions are undocumented and under constant threat of deportation and harassment, while families continue to be separated resulting in the heartbreaking social costs of migration.
Migrante International is a witness to countless cases of inequality and human rights abuses that our migrant workers are subjected to. These are tragedies that are direct off-shoots of the migration problem. In recent years, accounts of mass deportation, illegal recruitment, human, sex and drug trafficking, inhumane treatment and gruesome deaths, most of them remaining unresolved, have steeply increased. Recently, tens of thousands of Filipino workers, and other migrant workers of different nationalities were abruptly displaced, and tens of thousands more continue to be affected by the US-led interventionist war in Libya. Hundreds of thousands more migrants now face even greater uncertainty because of protectionist measures host countries implement in light of the current global economic crisis.
At the same time, millions of families are being torn apart, children separated from their families and lacking of nurture and guidance. According to a recent study, children of migrant workers have a high rate of drug abuse, early pregnancies and school drop-outs. Sadly, these have all merely boiled down for our workers overseas as “occupational hazards”.
Such is the greed for overseas remittances that even war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan have become “black-markets” for Filipino labor because of corrupt officials who exploit and take advantage of Filipinos desperate to find jobs abroad. But more than anything, it is the increasing desperation of OFWs that compel them to face risks head-on despite depressed wages, massive retrenchment and human and labor rights violations.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is that migrant workers would still opt to stay and find employment abroad than go home. This is because the Philippine government and the domestic economy offer no incentives, opportunities and programs that would encourage OFWs to voluntarily return. Labor export provides a tempting alternative to the unemployed and underemployed. Because of this, governments are not obligated to create jobs that offer decent wages and instead it becomes convenient for them to evade responsibility of implementing policy reforms to turn their economies around.
The intensification of labor export policies is the main agenda of the neoliberal globalization. States are encouraged to adopt labor export policies from an economic development point of view while paying lip service to other crucial issues like the rights of migrant workers and their families. Addressing such issues would hinder its core objective of utilizing labor export. In doing so, neoliberal globalization clearly sides with rich and highly-industrialized countries in its desire to gather huge profits from cheap labor and substandard services from migrant workers while keeping poorer countries continually under debt and dependent on whatever limited opportunities they can offer migrant workers.
Richer and powerful countries will continue to demand cheap and submissive workers from poorer and powerless countries. Sending countries, on the other hand, will continue to craft policies on how to intensify the export of human resources but will focus on market-driven goals and not on workers’ rights and protection. This cycle will continue for as long as neoliberal globalization policies continue to be embraced by governments and economies.
Unless governments tackle the root causes and effects of labor migration and respects the right of peoples and nations to genuine development, it will never become relevant. And for as long as migrant workers are bound in virtual slavery, cheap labor and enduring depressed and repressed conditions overseas while their own people and nation are drowning in poverty, neoliberal globalization will be rejected by peoples resisting oppression and labor exploitation. ###
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