Monday, March 5, 2018

Hands Off our Passports!!!


The Labour Undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad, is heading a delegation to Kuwait and other GCC countries to ensure “sufficient protection” for overseas workers against the background of the recent Filipino deaths and the subsequent deployment ban. He reported that President Duterte has ordered the team to ensure that the passports of Filipino workers are deposited with the Philippine embassy.

Filipino migrant workers strongly reject this proposal, especially the idea that it would mean they would be better protected in Kuwait (or elsewhere):
“They are our personal documents, they have no right to hold them.”
“ Nobody, even the employer, nor agency or embassy cannot hold it”
“That is wrong. The passport is not in their name, it’s in the migrants name”
“ What is the purpose then of us paying to make our passports?”
“ Its better that the owner should have it. This is important to us”
Legally their claim is supported by Article 9c, ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (2011) – which has been ratified by the Philippines.

Each member state shall take measures to ensure that domestic workers are entitled to keep in their possession the travel and identity documents.
Practically, how could they send remittances? A passport is required as an identity document for the money transfer from abroad.
This proposal’s emphasis on labour regulation will not improve the protection of migrant workers rights, safety and welfare. Filipino migrant workers regularly express distrust and criticism of some embassy staff. Some report experiencing a culture of impunity despite the discrimination, corruption and/or coercive practices such as physical violence, psychological intimidation and verbal threats they have encountered. Thus enhancing the control and power these government officials have over them through holding their passports is unlikely to improve their situation.

“ It is not a secret to everyone that the embassy are incompetent”
“ They are easily bought with money. I do not agree they should hold them”

Some workers recall the horrendous abuse of power present in the ‘sex-for-flight’ abusive practice - women workers who sought help were subjected to systemic sexual exploitation and commodification by Philippine officials in GCC countries, in exchange for their repatriation flight home.
Migrant rights advocates have proposed many policies to improve migrant workers protection in this situation - few have ever been put into action.
As a worker states: “what they need to do is organise the system. It is the computer age already and yet they have not developed. They are the one holding the system and have all the information about us” to monitor our workplace conditions and improve protection.
Ultimately, workers situated in a position of inequality and immobility renders them at risk of exploitation, abuse and violence. A key component of protection for migrant workers should be to establish A SAFE AND LEGAL EXIT from exploitative and/or abusive workplaces.
Migrant workers should be active participants in the development of all policies that affect their lives.
Kanlungan Centre Foundation Inc.

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