Written by Megan Lawton for the #KwentongKababayan Campaign
In 2019, 2.2 million Filipinos reported working overseas in the period of April-September. Whilst working abroad offers further employment opportunities, it is a challenging experience for many Overseas Filipino Workers. Poor working conditions, marginalization, social isolation, discrimination, and family separation are not uncommon issues in the OFW experience. In the face of COVID-19, these issues have only worsened for many overseas workers. As construction, domestic work, and hospitality are some of the largest industries for overseas workers, employment has been greatly affected by this pandemic.
As a result of COVID-19, wages, working hours, and employment protection benefits have been reduced for many OFWs globally. Not only does this impact overseas Filipino workers, but also the families they provide for. How are overseas Filipino workers able to support their families when their employers are unable to provide enough hours and sufficient wages for OFWs to survive on? On top of this, social distancing measures, and self-isolation have been made virtually impossible for workers facing cramped living and working conditions, and OFWs working around the clock in frontline healthcare positions.
CMA’s Survey (2020) revealed that 14.5% of respondents experienced discrimination as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Challenges like these, is what the Centre for Migration Advocacy (CMA) lobbies about in its advocacy work. CMA seeks to empower and support OFWs worldwide through their services. A central focus of CMA’s vision is long term prevention of OFW hardships through advocating legislative policy reform in the Philippines. Anti-Wage Theft Campaign, the Justice Mechanism, and a Comprehensive Reintegration Program are just some of the many OFW issues that CMA promotes.
CMA recognizes their role in promoting OFW rights, working closely with the United Nations, including the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Association of South-East Asian Nations to lobby migrant worker rights locally and globally. Networking with local and international organizations and groups are central to CMA’s strategies to expand the support network for OFWs
“CMA takes off from the belief that government is primarily responsible to its citizens therefore its policy advocacy is mainly to push government to do right by OFWs and their families thus works closely with government agencies, without compromising its responsibility to critique government when it fails to promote and protect the rights of OFWs and their families.” (CMA).
CMA’s involvement is not limited to policy advocacy, but it is an NGO dedicated and committed to alleviating individual hardships and vulnerabilities when working overseas. CMA educates overseas Filipino workers on their rights and connects workers to organizations overseas to assist them in settling into life abroad. Without the knowledge of worker rights, overseas workers can be vulnerable to human trafficking. As according to the International Labor Organization’s study, 24.9 million people in 2016 were subject to forced labor, with 16 million of those individuals being domestic workers (ILO, Global Estimates of Modern Slavery 2017). It is cases such as these, that CMA aims to combat through its Direct Assistance Program:
“CMA helped rescue a woman from Mindanao trafficked to Ivory Coast to work in a bar when she was recruited to work as a cashier. She did not want to work in the bar and so she was locked up and was not given any food except what little food the other girls could manage to smuggle to her.”
“CMA also facilitated the rescue and repatriation of a domestic worker who was overworked and was not given enough to eat. She was eventually able to pursue her dream to finish BS Education. “
These are just some of the individuals CMA has assisted. While these extreme circumstances do not describe all overseas worker experiences, they go unrecognized and unreported, where victims of these conditions are unknown and unseen by society. CMA provides a voice to OFWs subject to poor treatment by their employers.
“CMA’s capacity building mainly targets empowering OFWs so that they will and can assert their rights but is always open to include local government units to mainstream migration governance down to the community level, where the OFWs and their families are, where illegal recruitment and human trafficking occur.”
CMA’s staff are not only dedicated to the rescue and repatriation of OFWs, but empower OFWs through referring overseas workers to legal support, campaigning, local assistance programmes, raising awareness for OFW rights and skills training to increase employability.
Despite the current challenges from COVID-19, it is fundamental to understand the adversities and complexities of working abroad on an individual, community and global level as it is through advocacy work including CMA’s campaigns, that a brighter future for OFWs and their families can be a much closer reality.