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**This essay was submitted in January 2012 for Professor Jill Hanley, at McGill University's School of Social Work, as part of an independent study carried out in relation to Dr. Hanley’s on-going research on migrant workers’ access to health and social services in Montreal, Canada. The project was aided by the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal, as well as other activist groups active in Canada, Hong Kong and the Philippines.**

Temporary Foreign Workers: The Pull of Canadian Labour and Immigration Policies & the Push of Recruitment Agencies in the Philippines Signalling a global shift in preference from high to low-skilled labour and from permanent to temporary immigration, more than half of the total 600,000 migrants admitted into Canada in 2008 came as temporary foreign workers, for the first time exceeding those seeking permanent residency. As contemporary global labour markets become more flexible, increasing numbers of people migrate across borders in search of the temporary, contractual or seasonal jobs offered through low-skilled worker programs, such as the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) in Canada. New systems, designed to obtain and transport supplies of labour, emerge in conjunction with the proliferation of legal regimes regulating the admission of migrants into labour-receiving countries. Yet as the number of migrants coming to Canada through guest worker programs continues to swell, the state has provided fewer rights, lower wages and less access to essential social and health services, regardless of migrants’ previous professional experience. The prospects available to those seeking permanent settlement ultimately diminish as more and more immigrants are deported on the basis of alleged criminality. These trends are deeply problematic. At the same time that Canada expands its lowskilled TFWP beyond the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), it simultaneously and continuously fails, as do many other labour-

Bindra 2 receiving countries, to ratify several International Labour Organization (ILO)1 and United Nations (UN)2 conventions that seek to protect the rights of migrants and to regulate labour brokers and intermediaries for their protection. Instead, Canada has adopted resolutions that criminalize the undocumented movement of people across national borders. Consequently, as migration is pushed underground and illegal recruitment practices and transportation mechanisms thrive in a mitigated sphere of unregulation, migrant workers lives’ are rendered precarious. As workers, transnational labour brokers, and both labour-sending and receiving states become involved in the complex constellation of migration, it becomes imperative to question whose interests are furthered by securing the insecurity of temporary workers. The refusal to formulate a comprehensive framework in which meaningful, legal and safe migration could transpire and the manufacture of a disposable, transient workforce that is low-skilled, underpaid, and fundamentally precarious points to three main points. Migrant workers’ disposability, accomplished by withholding citizenship and permanent status, is firstly indicative of the labour-receiving state’s success in conditioning labour desires, commodifying migrant labour and manipulating its citizens’ aversion to the “other.” The flexibilization of the transnational labour migration apparatus generates significant gains for the


Canada has yet to sign the ILO Migration for Employment Convention 97 or the ILO Migrant Workers Convention 143. Convention 97 encourages countries to establish bi-lateral labour agreements standardizing the procedures for the public and private recruitment, salaries, benefits, and working conditions of migrant workers. Convention 143 supports the equal treatment of migrant workers with regards to equal wages and benefits, despite precarious or nonnaturalized status. It calls on states to facilitate the complete integration of migrants abroad and to take steps to reduce illegal migration by placing sanctions on employers who hire undocumented migrants . 2 Canada has not signed the UN International Convention of the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. In fact, no migrant-receiving state in Western Europe or North America has ratified the Convention. Many countries, including Canada, have, however, adopted The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children and The Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air. It is important to note that despite being understood as human rights violations according to the UN Security General, anti-smuggling and anti-trafficking laws are administered by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and were enacted to supplement the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Bindra 3 Canadian economy and heavily subsidizes Canadian privilege.3 Ironically, as Canadian borders become stricter in regulating human mobility according to reified hierarchies of citizenship, capital and temporary labour regimes are becoming increasingly more mobile and globalized. The push toward the deregulation and flexibilization of capital across international borders exposes the second facet of contemporary labour-migration. As legacies of colonial rule intersect with neoliberal globalization and other neo-colonial forces, rural displacement, unemployment, and under-employment are further exacerbated as foreign multinational and transnational corporations prioritize export-processing zones, call centres, mining projects, and service industries to the detriment of the development of sustainable industries and local economies. Globalization engineers a drama of desperation that provides an impetus for those with fewer opportunities to leave their homeland. As a consequence, disposable, reserve armies of labour are generated for export in order to fulfil the constructed need for cheap labour in higher-income countries. Article Overview Although people choose to migrate for a number of reasons, the places and opportunities migrant workers envision are formed not only by global processes and the estimated level of access to a given destination, but also by the policies and prevailing ideologies of nation they leave. This constrains both the number of choices and degree of agency available to migrants and augments the precarity of foreign labour opportunities. This study examines this third aspect 3

As the increase of married women in the waged workforce has not been paralleled or met with the provision of subsidized or state-regulated childcare in industrialized states, the gap in childcare leads professional women to “buy” themselves out of the “double shift” by hiring low-wage earning women, disproportionably from the third world, to clean, cook, raise their children or look after elders for them through “international division of reproductive labour.” Arlie Hochschild applies Freud’s theory of displacement to claim that the love of the migrant nanny represents a type of “surplus value” that non-migrant women receive. The displaced emotion of the higherincome woman is then exploited by corporations in industrialized states, who disproportionately employ women in the “human side of the company.” Hochschild asserts that “the care in the chain may begin with that which a rural third world mother gives (as a nanny) the urban child she cares for, and it may end with the care a working mother gives her employers as the vice president of publicity at your company.”

Bindra 4 of labour migration: the globalization of labour brokerage states and low-skill labour circuits as they manifest and function in labour-exporting countries. Of particular interest is the manner in which the mechanisms of the migration apparatus of the labour-sending state reconfigure citizenship and national identity in order to normalize short-term out-migration and to ensure that migrants comply with the terms of temporary “3-D” (“dirty, difficult and dangerous”) working contracts. The enterprise of migration, facilitated by institutional instruments of social control, governmentality and moral management, acts in order to guarantee that money is sent back to the state in order to quell the costs of dislocation and unemployment engendered by neoliberalism. Such policies and vested interests reveal that the labour-receiving and -sending states, as well as various transnational labour brokers, both stake a claim in commodifying the “ideal,” docile migrant worker. Today, the total number of international migrants—persons outside of their countries of birth or place of national citizenship—is at an all-time high, approximated at 214 million people worldwide as compared to the 150 million recorded in 2000.4 Reflections on labour-migration accordingly require an alternate mapping of the economic restructuring practices coordinated between labour-sending and -receiving countries. In order to develop a framework that can take into account the effects such policies have on the rights and needs of migrant workers, it is imperative to question the organization of contemporary labour markets and the context in which labour agents recruit and move workers across borders. While it is important to be critical of the deregulation of migrant labour in “core” cities according to receiving countries’ domestic labour and immigration laws, it is also crucial to understand the social organization, bureaucratization, and institutionalization of formalized out-migration in sending-countries so as to clarify the force


United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2008 Revision (June 2010):

Bindra 5 of neoliberalism in shaping labour migration trajectories. Although neoliberal global processes certainly influence the labour desires of industrial, labour-receiving states, it is just as important to recognize the sending-state’s role in informing the methodology of globalization. As Filipino migrant workers represent Canada’s largest source of low-skill and temporary labour, this article seeks to situate the precarity many low-skill, temporary migrant workers’ experience as a result of the TFWP in Canada and of the processes through which they are recruited. Given that state and private recruitment agencies both play a key role in socializing the relationship between foreign employers and migrant workers, I use interviews with key labour brokers, government representatives, private agencies, migrant advocacy groups and migrant workers themselves to examine the changing ways in which contracts are established and labourers are constructed, recruited, and finally deployed. In order to contextualize the micropolitics of power exemplified by contemporary labour migration, the first portion of this study relates the institutionalization of neoliberal economic restructuring policies in the Philippines to the creation, feminization, and transnational mobilization of large, cheap, and exploitable pools of Filipino labour across borders. This context requires a critical consideration of the Philippines’ unique position within labourmigration regimes and of the international division of low-skill labour, even as the state’s promotion of overseas employment regulation and management of labour export is heralded as a model of development by the World Bank and the IMF. The second section will examine more closely the Philippines’ overseas employment program and the branding of migrants as “national heroes.” Because employers come to expect certain behaviours of migrant workers through not only state promotion but also by way of the images and representations of migrants perpetuated by private-sector recruitment, advertising, and ideology, the third portion of the article discusses

Bindra 6 the practices of for-profit, low-skill, and temporary placement and recruitment agencies based in Manila and Hong Kong (the latter often termed “the stepping stone to Canada”). The Institutionalization of Labour-Export Policies in the Philippines: Colonial Legacies and Neoliberal Restructuring The Philippines, behind China and India, constitutes one of the largest sources of migrant labour servicing the global economy. Working in foreign labour markets, both on land and at sea, Filipino Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) are employed abroad in over 200 countries and represent a highly diversified portfolio of migrant labour markets.5 Today, roughly 10–11 per cent of the total Filipino population is either working or living outside the Philippines. Migrants who have attained immigrant or naturalized status abroad total 4.5 million6, while the number of OFWs amounts to another four to five million people.7 Estimates of undocumented or irregular Filipino migrants vary, from reports as low as 704,9168 to estimates of 4 to 6 million people.9 With the bulk of workers stationed in the Middle East and in other global labour hubs, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Hong Kong represent the top three destinations of newly-deployed Filipino labour migrants. A significant portion of land-based migrants leave the Philippines to work in traditionally feminized occupations, such as nursing, domestic work, and entertainment. Indeed, women constitute the majority of newly hired OFWs, with more than half of Filipina migrants working as household service workers in 2010.10 Many Filipino men work as seafarers or in the service and production industries.11


POEA, Compendium of OFW Statistics 2009 (June 16 2011): Statistics.pdf. 6 Commission on Filipinos Overseas, Commission on Filipinos Overseas (June 17 2011): 7 CIA, The World Fact Book (November 28 2011): 8 CFO. 9 CIA. 10 POEA, Compendium of OFW Statistics 2010 (December 3 2011): 11 Ibid.

Bindra 7 The United States and Canada, home to over three million and 650,000 Filipinos respectively, represent Filipinos’ top two destinations. Canada has fewer Filipino migrants with landed, permanent status than does the States; however, as a result of the bilateral labour agreements between the Philippine state and the Canadian government, more Filipinos are migrating to Canada through official labour-migration channels than to any other country in North America. In 2010, of the 25,696 Filipino migrants deployed to North America, 54 per cent came to Canada, of which an overwhelming majority took positions in low-skill production, household and service work.12 Accordingly, OFW remittances from Canada are growing more quickly than those of any other country: behind the U.S., they represent the second-highest source of remittances, accounting for nearly 11 per cent of the total remittances sent to the Philippines in 2010.13 Today, as nearly 4,000 workers leave the Philippines each day, state-sponsored migration has proven quite lucrative for the Philippine state, and remittances remain a catalyst of economic growth. The Central Bank of the Philippines reported that total remittances received from OFWs through official banking channels amounted to an all-time high of US$18.7 billion in 2010, representing a considerable increase from the US$7.5 billion reported in just 2003.14 Remittances compose the largest single contribution—roughly 10 per cent—to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Considering the state’s external debt of approximately US$60 billion, as well as the fact that public debt amounts to more than 50 per cent of GDP15, it is easy to understand why the Philippine state—the so-called “Home of the Great Filipino Worker”—praises OFWs for their 12

Ibid. Ibid. 14 Bangko Sentral ng Pilipina, “Overseas Filipino’s Remittances, By Country, By Source” (December 3 2011): 15 CIA. 13

Bindra 8 sense of national duty, familial obligation and righteous behaviour. Indeed, OFWs are referred to as Bagong Bayani, the modern day heroes of the Philippines.16 “Lucky” OFWs are often given awards with great fanfare by the president such as the “Model OFW Family of the Year Award,” and holidays are established to commend OFWs, such as OFW Family Day. Despite rendering the disposability and precarity of workers abroad, the Philippine state conditions an ethic of responsibility that makes OFWs proud of their contribution to their families and the national economy through the relative privilege and status they are afforded in state discourse. Remittances are championed as a productive investment. Short-term labour migration is heralded as model of technical advancement and skill acquisition, and thus labour out-migration becomes a permanent fixture in the domestic economy. In 2003, then-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo affirmed the entrepreneurship inherent in the state’s sophisticated, bureaucratic migration apparatus when she remarked, “Not only am I the head of state responsible for a nation of 80 million people. I’m also the CEO of a global Philippine enterprise of eight million Filipinos who live and work abroad and generate billions of dollars a year in revenue for our country.”17 As a result, the state embarks on an aggressive campaign to market workers as submissive and industrious, in order to fall in line with foreign demands for low-skill, temporary labour. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) proclaims Filipino labourers are “ideally suited in any multi-racial working environment” and “world-renowned” for their service and hospitality. In the promotional materials offering information on hiring OFWs, Filipinos are further described as “resilient, adaptable, English-proficient, loyal,” “warm


Anna R. Guevarra, “Managing ‘Vulnerabilities’ and ‘Empowering’ Migrant Filipina Workers: The Philippines’ Overseas Employment Program,” Social Identities 12.5 (2006): 523-541. 17 Robyn M. Rodriguez, Migrants for Export: How the Philippine State Brokers Labor to the World (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 9.

Bindra 9 and caring,” and “deeply committed and dedicated to their jobs.” They are said to exude charm, cheer, and a positive work attitude. Indeed, Filipino migrant workers are “moving the world forward.”18 The Prefiguring of Philippine-based Recruitment Local, sustainable Philippine projects and services are faced with an impasse: the focus on strengthening foreign exchange reserves through remittances, in order to service the state’s mounting foreign debt, jeopardizes the investment and generation of education, health care, and social services. The global market provides further incentive to manufacture, market, and export commodified low-wage labour, a dynamic which suggests the necessity and presence of a brokering class of Filipinos that contributes to the extraction of surplus value from surplus labour. Although the stratification of Filipino society is both constitutive of and operative on contemporary labour migration, such a structure also acts to solidify unequal positions assigned both in the production of gendered local labour markets and in the international division of labour. Used as neoliberal instruments to manage social unrest locally and globally, it is thus imperative to ground the class complexities inherent in labour export within both colonial and neo-colonial, neoliberal contexts. Over three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines, beginning in the 16th century, dramatically altered the communal, subsistence-based agricultural style of life and the relatively egalitarian gender relations that had previously characterized the country. As land was privatized to export agricultural goods, a class of landless peasants formed and was forced to work for landlords.19 In 1898, America won the Spanish-American war and subsequently

POEA, “Filipino Workers: Moving the World Today” (July 17 2011): 19 Ligaya Lindio-McGovern, Filipino Peasant Women: Exploitation and Resistance (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), 13. 18

Bindra 10 annexed the Philippines, along with Puerto Rico and Cuba. Despite a devastating decade-long battle waged by Filipino anti-colonial forces, the Philippine-American war came to an end as Americans embarked on “pacification” campaigns to combat guerrilla-style opposition. The widespread murder and torture of civilians left communities destitute. The Americans co-opted a class of Filipinos into the colonial administration, developing a class structure that would not only further consecrate Spanish terms of feudalism but also remain a permanent fixture of Filipino society, even after decolonization.20 The restructuring of the Philippine economy was accomplished in two major steps. First, the U.S. extracted the raw materials it needed to expand its own industries; then, it tailored the Philippine market to make it dependent upon importing the American manufactured goods these industries produced. As the industries beneficial to American interests were prioritized to the detriment of Philippine infrastructural and manufacturing investments, many Filipinos were left unemployed. To ensure maximum profit, excess peasant labour was first mobilized to serve the upper classes in the Philippines and later siphoned overseas. Filipinos were already considered “nationals” of the United States and could therefore avoid immigration restrictions; as such, Filipinos (mostly men) were aggressively recruited to work in the service industry and as manual labourers. By 1930, more than 100,000 Filipinos worked in the States.21 The Philippine Independence Act (the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934), which paved way for the Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935, reconstituted Filipinos as Philippine citizens rather than as U.S. nationals. Yet agreements to allow Filipino nurses to study and work in the United States were still honoured despite clampdowns on immigration.22 Informed by the great “American dream,” a culture of migration came into being through not only an American 20

Rodriguez, 30. Ibid, 32. 22 Ibid, 36. 21

Bindra 11 education system instituted in the Philippines but also through the physical act of migration and the grooming of Filipino elites abroad. The Exchange Visitor Program (EVP), through which many nurses came into the US, as well as contracts available to Filipinos who participated in the US military (oftentimes as a means to gain access to the United States), point to the early forms of migrant-labour formalization that allowed for the transfer of working bodies across national borders. As bureaucratic procedures and controls on immigration necessitated the expansion of Philippinebased private recruiters and labour brokers in facilitating out-migration, the Philippine state saw an opportunity to capitalize on the foreign private sector desire for Filipino labour. In this manner, the systems surrounding recruitment during the colonial period came to foreshadow the institutionalization of the Philippine labour export policy. Global Restructuring Despite formal decolonization in 1946, the effects of political, educational and military indoctrination of American ideology manifested themselves in the Philippines through colonial and neocolonial forces’ implementation of neoliberalism as the seemingly only viable solution to counter rising debts and a rapidly expanding labour force. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) strategy of the Philippines proved insufficient in promoting economic growth as manufacturing industries were not able to expand beyond protected domestic markets. The extreme unemployment, poverty, and massive social unrest engendered by poor economic policies proved disastrous. As the ‘70s drew nearer, supporters of multinational corporations and transnational companies pushed to liberalize trade barriers.23 In 1972, dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared a period of martial law.


James A. Tyner, "Global Cities and Circuits of Global Labor: the Case of Manila, Philippines," Professional Geographer 52.1 (2000): 61-74.

Bindra 12 Various free trade agreements made directly with the Marcos government during this period of martial law established a pattern the Aquino government would follow by accepting the export-oriented “structural adjustment” and open-door models of development demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Continued in the regimes of Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo, neo-liberal policies reigned supreme in the Philippines.24 As the state sought greater integration into the global economy, it forged asymmetrical export trade agreements, leaving domestic resources, minerals and industries open to US nationals and other foreign investors. Export-processing zones were developed and the tourist industry was expanded, both of which generally rely on the low-paid and low-status work of Filipino women.25 From 1970 to 1983, the country’s external debt climbed from US$2 billion to US$24 billion.26 Haphazard technical development in agriculture spiralled the country further into economic crisis and political uncertainty. Yet the state remained steadfast in protecting transnational capital at the expense of freezing local wages and removing educational and healthcare subsidies. Colonial class structures concentrated the little wealth accumulated into the hands of few elites. As the consumption needs of the Filipino people continued to rise, the support from the government continued to decline.27 Rise of POEA and the Recruitment State Marcos’s export-oriented model of development codified the business of exporting human labour in the 1974 Philippine Labour Code, which provided the legal framework for the state monopolization of overseas employment and the gradual phasing out of private sector


Lindio-McGovern. 30. Rodriguez, 41. 26 Guevarra, “‘Managing,’” 526. 27 Rodriguez, 38. 25

Bindra 13 actors.28 With Marcos’s presidential decree 442, the Overseas Employment Development Board (OEDB) and the National Seaman’s Board (NSB) were created in 1972 as governmental agencies to recruit and deploy both land- and sea-based workers. The Bureau of Employment Services (BES), already in existence, was a government-run employment agency that also supervised private placement agencies.29 The state initiated a forceful campaign promoting an internationally attractive, compliant, and cheap Filipino labour market in order to reduce domestic unemployment, to acquire skills and training for Filipinos, and above all, to fund the state’s balance of payments deficit by requiring migrants to remit a portion of their earnings. Yet it became evident that the state’s desire for complete control of the labour-export program would not be possible as overcentralization, corruption and inefficiency soon saw the OEDB and the NSB falter. Subsequent to the second oil crisis in 1979 and the rapid decline in the price of key export crops in the world economy, in 1982 the OEDB, the NSB, and the BES collapsed to form the Philippines Overseas Employment Office (POEA) in an effort to revamp the social organization of overseas employment.30 The POEA now promotes and monitors the public and private overseas employment of Filipinos by directly engaging in the processes of training, recruitment and deployment. With three regional offices in the Philippines, the POEA is the nucleus of overseas employment, linking foreign employers and governments together while simultaneously governing public and private agencies, OFW services, employment information networks, and labour attachés abroad. The POEA states that “an average of 3,000 clients and as much as 5,000 clients are served by the POEA main office [located in Manila] daily,” with clients including “OFWs, Licensed 28

Tyner, “Global Cities,” 64. Rodriguez, 40. 30 Tyner, “Global Cities,” 65. 29

Bindra 14 Recruitment and Manning Agencies, Foreign Employers/Principals Applicants – Workers/ Would be Applicants, NGOs, media, and the general public.”31 The POEA has four functioning offices: the Pre-Employment Services Office, which registers foreign employers, approves job orders, and documents the deployment of new hires and returning workers; the Licensing and Regulation Office (LRO), which regulates recruitment agencies through licensing regulations, ownership restrictions, and capital requirements; the Adjudication Office (AO), which receives, decides and records cases filed against recruiters, foreign employers and OFWs violating POEA regulations; and lastly, the Management Services Group (MSG), which conducts market and policy research, presents labour-market information to related POEA offices, and publishes public information.32 Along with the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE), the Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO), and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the POEA directly seeks, develops, and facilitates employment opportunities abroad through marketing missions, promotional campaigns, advertising, Client Referral Assistance (CRA) Programs (now web-based), and the securing of bilateral labour agreements.33 Additionally, labour attachés are stationed in Philippine consulates abroad to provide ongoing and on-the-ground assistance to migrant workers while also keeping an eye on labour-market developments, reporting to both the POEA and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). The OWWA provides services and shelters to migrants in overseas Philippine embassies, assists the families of migrant workers, and covers the cost of emergency repatriation. While the POEA itself deployed 10,000 OFWs directly in 2003, the largest private recruitment agencies deployed around 3,000 and 5,000 migrants. The private recruitment POEA, “About POEA,” (July 17 2011): POEA, “Hiring Filipino Workers” (June 19 2011): 33 Tyner, “Global Cities,” 66. 31 32

Bindra 15 industry has come to play a critical role in Filipino labour-migration, sitting in on the POEA governing board and boasting annual revenues of over US$400 million in 2004.34 In 2012, the industry was made up of over 3,000 land and sea-based agencies, over 2,500 of which were comprised of solely land-based agencies.35 Agencies are characterized by whether they supply labour to foreign employers as a Private Employment Agency; whether they provide labour through the deployment of Philippine companies who receive the foreign labour contract, such as a Construction Contractor or Service Contractor; or whether they deploy seafarers as a Manning Agency or Philippine Registered Vessel. Agencies are further divided by deployment of specific occupations as well as the location of deployment. The vast majority of agencies are located in Metro Manila. Walking down a street in Ermita, the entertainment district of the city, confirms Manila’s status as what James Tyner terms a “global city.” The urbanization and the localization of the migration industry reveals itself through the concentration of government agencies, private recruitment agencies, training centres, testing and pre-departure venues, insurance companies, medical clinics, police stations, travel agents, banks, and visa and passport processing offices.36 Posters with loud colours and bold print plaster the streets, proclaiming “Fast Employment and Fast Deployment!” and “Welfare Abroad Guaranteed!,” and they feature jobs in Hong Kong, Kuwait, Qatar, Singapore, Dubai, or they promise “Your Way to Canada, Europe and Australia!”37 Indeed, workers’ remittances, as well as key enterprises related to migration drive the economy.


Martin, Merchants, 11. POEA, “Status of Recruitment Agencies” (January 2 2012): 36 Tyner, “Global Cities,” 61-74 37 One Baguio newspaper ad recruiting domestic helpers in Hong Kong read, “Your Hong Kong experience is your stepping stone to Canada!” It included a picture of a young woman in a park, with the following caption: “Ms. Kareen Sannad is one of our Baguio applicants who was deployed to Hong Kong. She got a job in Canada after finishing her contract in HK. This photo was taken during her rest day while relaxing and enjoying the beauty of Victoria Park in Niagara Falls, Ontario. This park provides a great deal of plants. She has a regular job as a 35

Bindra 16 Process of Deployment and State Services While some agencies take on the responsibility of obtaining the clearances and documents required to obtain an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC), the responsibility is most often transferred to OFW applicants, as well as any other costs associated with processing. Some of the documents land-based applicants must obtain in the Philippines usually include a passport; National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)/police clearance; birth certificate; certificate from the Office on Muslim Affairs (OMA); if birth was not recorded, proof of Medicare; medical examination; employment contract authentication; Technical Education and Skills Development and Authority (TESDA ) certificate and trade test; Pre-Departure Orientation Session (PDOS) certificate; affidavit of support; and a comprehensive Pre-Departure Education Program (CPDEP) for all Household Service Workers (HSWs). Employers take on the cost of any travel fees, visa requirements, or work permits, but OFW applicants must additionally pay for a POEA Processing Fee (US$100 or its peso equivalent); OWWA membership fee (US$25 or its peso equivalent); PhilHealth Medicare coverage, valid for one year (Php900.00); and the Home Development Mutual Fund (HDMF), more popularly known as the PAG-IBIG Fund (Php100.00). Mandatory fees are increasing, including the PAG-IBIG fund and the health insurance fee. OFWs using a recruitment agency usually also pay a job-matching and processing fee, limited to the sum of one month’s wages for a usual two-year contract. The POEA stipulates that for certain country destinations and job occupations, such as domestic workers destined for Saudi Arabia, placement agencies are not allowed to exact a fee.

Caregiver that helps in providing the needs of her family back home. She is enjoying beautiful places in Canada that she finds time to visit during her day-off.�

Bindra 17 In response to the high-profile deaths of OFWs abroad, such as the 1995 hanging of 42year old domestic worker Flor Contemplacion in Singapore, and countless others who were used as drug mules or as “overseas performing artists” who worked as entertainers and strip tease dancers, the POEA has incorporated “gender-sensitive criteria” to manage the vulnerabilities of feminized occupations. In order to appease the mounting public outcry over the physical and sexual abuse of Filipinas abroad, as well as the moral panic generated over the “social costs” of women working overseas—familial and marital dissolution, juvenile delinquency and drug abuse, and the “embarrassing” stereotype of Filipinas abroad as domestic workers and promiscuous women—the POEA established a minimum age for both domestic workers and entertainers, required foreign employers and agencies to post cash/performance bonds, and mandated applicants to undergo a series of skills training and testing before being deployed. 38 The POEA also sought to refurbish the image of the overseas employment program, seeking to present the state as fully committed to the welfare of OFWs. Fidel V. Ramos, thenpresident as the Flor Contemplacion case was brought to light, initiated the formation of the Gancayco Commission, a fact-finding mission that assessed existing migration policies and program protections. The report uncovered the conditions that many Filipinos endured abroad: unregulated work hours, unpaid salaries, food and sleep deprivation, personal surveillance, inadequate living quarters, withholding of passport, harassment, physical abuse, sexual assault and rape. The Commission recommended the gradual phase-out of domestic workers and entertainers, to be accompanied by the generation of sustainable, local employment and competitive domestic wages. Under Aquino, in 1988 the state banned all domestic worker deployments. Yet Filipinos continued to migrate for household service positions as foreign demand remained intact and no 38

Guevarra, “Managing,” 528.

Bindra 18 alternatives existed at home. The ban pushed domestic workers underground, only making them more vulnerable. The ban eventually ended as the state realized how profitable domestic workers’ remittances were to the economy. Soon after, the Republic Act 8042: The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 was enacted. The act allowed the state to seem both concerned about protecting the rights of OFWs while continuing to benefit from the remittances of “vulnerable workers.” With the local economy still grossly underdeveloped and disproportionably hitting women the hardest, the state reiterated that it did not “promote” overseas migration but only that it “managed” and “facilitated” it. Several provisions have been put in place to counter illegal recruitment, trafficking, illegal fees, job scams, and overcharging by the POEA. Minimum wages and benefits have been standardized in contracts. In recognizing the structural manipulation many migrants encounter through the recruitment process itself, the government has aimed to reduce the number of licensed recruiters by doubling the capital required to get a license and by requiring proof of financial and marketing capacity and attendance at a Pre-Licensing Orientation Seminar. Filipino recruiters are also held jointly liable with foreign employers. Yet for all the regulations to manage the terms of temporary out-migration, the safety and protection that OFWs can expect is still uncertain. Ultimately, the state and migrants lack the fundamental ability to hold foreign employers and labour brokers accountable as the state has no jurisdiction abroad. For migrants, the lack of Philippine jurisdiction in foreign countries is compounded by the Philippines’ largely unfair, ineffective, and unreliable domestic legal system. Meanwhile, as the state attempts to address the “vulnerability” of certain feminized professions, the content of Pre-Departure Orientations Sessions (PDOS), TESDA skills training programs, and other prepping services migrant workers are required to attend seem to be more

Bindra 19 concerned with managing workers behaviour by emphasizing family roles and appropriate sexuality (in order to craft a reputable national image), rather than grounding the real source of vulnerability in the working conditions. A PDOS I attended in Manila for domestic workers being deployed to various places in the Middle East, where some of the worst cases of abuse and exploitation surface, consisted at one point of a brainstorming session. The teacher, an employee of a “nongovernmental” organization (NGO) licensed to administer the PDOS, asked the participants to come up with a list of the possible hardships they may encounter in their future homes and place of employment. The responses centred on their relationship with male employers. As domestic workers often enter receiving countries as non-citizens in the “private” domain, they are especially at risk of isolation, sexual assault, and abuse as their ability to work is tied to compulsory live-in status to one employer/landlord.39 The solutions to avoid the tensions OFW applicants described consisted of advice on what clothes to wear (desexualized and loose-fitting) and the correct demeanour and femininity to exude (friendly, not familiar). After the discussion, the lights turned off and all applicants gave their attention to a video on self-defence. Above the TV, a printed-out piece of paper posted on the information wall quoted, “Life is not a dress rehearsal. Everyday is a new show … No repeats … No rewinds. So give your best shot! For that show goes on and on. Be a splendid performer!”


The Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) in Canada grants visas, primarily to female domestic workers, who agree to work for and live with their employers for a minimum of two years in a three-year period. After this point, domestic workers can apply for permanent resident status. The conditions of the workplace/private home are unregulated, and the institutionalization of live-in status often amounts to “conditions of indentured labour.” Requisite preliminary status as non-citizens restricts the healthcare, pension, and employment insurance benefits needed to work with security or prove eligibility for permanent residency. Of those who are not able to successfully fulfil the requirements for the LCP, many choose to illegally stay in Canada, working in the shadow economy where employers use a “take it or leave it” stance to assert their unilateral right to determine hours, pay, and living conditions. Nevertheless, because the LCP is viewed only in terms of immigration policy, the structural conditions reinforcing the public/private divide in caregiving are systematically ignored by policy makers despite a commitment to gender-based analysis by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

Bindra 20 The PDOS concluded in a room consisting of mainly low-skill workers: domestic workers, transport workers, and those destined for the service industry in a range of countries from Canada to Guam to Brunei. Posters on the wall advertised OFW pharmaceutical packages and special deals on “Multipurpose OFW Loan” (with no hidden cost, no cash out, no collateral, no advance interest, no agents, two hours loan approval, first payment after two months). A large banner adorned the left wall reading, “WE DO NOT RECRUIT FOR JOBS. WE EDUCATE TO PREVENT INJURIES, SAVE LIVES AND HELP KEEP FAMILIES HAPPY TOGETHER.” Country-specific pamphlets were passed out as “survival guides” sponsored by Western Union. They contained information on local language, culture, and geography, and they ended with information on how to remit earnings and a list of the nearest banks. A nun at the front of the room made jokes with sexual innuendo about the loneliness workers may face. She drew a diagram on the whiteboard that made connections between “$ financial problems – better life (food, shelter, education, misc.) – happy (physical, spiritual).” The rhetoric of sacrifice was repeated as a neoliberal project of economic competitiveness was instilled in participants in the room, encouraging them upon returning from their work contract to reinvest earnings into productive ventures, microenterprises, and entrepreneurial projects. The participants’ identities were reduced to the wages they would eventually earn for themselves, for their families and for the Philippines. Why People Leave It is important to here to remain attentive to the agency of the migrant worker and refute single scripts of victimization that many discussions of the oftentimes sexualized international division of labour entail. Migrants leave for a number of reasons, some expressing the desire to travel and to experience other cultures. Some former OFWs have also had excellent experiences

Bindra 21 working abroad.40 Yet in a state where nearly 33 per cent live under the poverty line, 7.2 per cent of the population is unemployed, and of those employed 40.2 per cent (15 million people) experience vulnerable employment,41 all of the former, current, and applicant migrant labourers I interviewed affirmed that the desire to become an OFW was first and foremost about the need to acquire better wages and opportunities for themselves and for their families. Many also cite the culture of migration that has developed in the Philippines, a colonial mentality whereby becoming an OFW is a symbol of status and leaving the country is a chief aspiration. Some OFWs upon returning to the Philippines flaunt their money, buying mansions, becoming more materialistic and enjoying their new class status.42 Many migrants cite Canada as their dream destination, hence the description of jobs in Singapore, Hong Kong and other labour destinations as the “Stepping Stone to Canada.” One migrant worker stated of Canada, “It’s a better life,” mentioning better wages, employment conditions, benefits, and prospect of settling down. One website that lists jobs in Canada for Filipinos states that “Canada is a rich and very progressive country. It has a very big percentage of literate citizens and relocating to Canada is never easy. However, the country needs many skilled workers and if you have the skill that they need, finding a good Canadian employer is


One migrant worker described the 10 years she worked in Hong Kong as a domestic worker, where she worked for French, Chinese, American, and Australian families. She enjoyed the cross-cultural exchanges she encountered, as well as the different styles of cooking she learned. One family even paid for her to take cooking lessons in order to accommodate their vegetarian diet 41 Philip Tubeza, “Philippines on right track but problems remain, says int’l labor official,” Philippine Daily Inquirer (December 5 2011): 42 The commodification of migrant labour not only exacerbates class differences between migrants and their higherincome employers. For example, as Rhacel Salazar Parrenas explains, the nexus between the transfer of caregiving labour and the withholding of citizenship/human rights within an international division of labour maintains a twotier racial hierarchy between women, in addition to fostering a three-tier classed system whereby privilege is stratified between 1) professional women in the receiving countries, 2) migrant domestic workers, and 3) the women left behind that cannot afford to leave their country.

Bindra 22 never that hard. There are many immigrants to Canada so when you migrate there, there are many people who can relate to your situation. You will never feel alone.”43 The Agency Push: Commodifying Filipino Labour through Recruitment and Deployment Today, as cross-border labour exchanges increase, job descriptions are less uniform and job credentials are less recognized internationally. Hence, the reliance on direct employer recruitment and public employment agencies has declined.44 While the proliferation of informal networks—including traffickers and other labour intermediaries such as friends and family—has been well documented, the recognition of the unprecedented power and control private recruitment agencies have come to exert in dictating the processes of recruitment and deployment in labour-sending countries has been less investigated. As states such as the Philippines have realized agents’ effective methods of obtaining knowledge of foreign job opportunities and filling overseas labour contracts, labour-sending governments have acted to regulate the activity of private recruitment and placement agencies. Yet as many migrants who seek higher paying jobs abroad find themselves paying unusually high recruitment fees, engaging in labour that was not described in their contract, or sometimes even enduring slave-like conditions despite the existence of government regulation, it is imperative here to question the role of the labour-sending state in fostering, albeit regulating, the private recruitment industry. What effect does the institutionalization of formalized public overseas employment offices have on securing the safety of migrant workers? How are the alternate interests held by the state, private agencies, employers and migrant workers reconciled


khassandra, “More Philippine Recruitment Agencies for Canada,” Hubpages: 44 Philip L. Martin, Merchants of Labour: Agents of the Evolving Migration Infrastructure (Geneva: International Institute for Labour Studies, 2005), 2.

Bindra 23 in the process of migration? This section explores the rise of temporary private agencies recruiting low-skill and temporary land-based Filipino workers, agencies’ recruitment processes, the effect of regulatory mechanisms, and the support available to migrants as they work abroad. Historical and Contemporary Recruitment45 In the wake of the oil hikes of 1973 and the following construction boom in the Middle East, both migrants and capital were siphoned to oil-exporting nations in the region to service the building of infrastructure projects, such as of hospitals and airports. Seasonal and short-term job employers began turning to temporary help agencies to fulfil their labour needs, as these agencies were usually cheaper than direct-hires. Temporary workers, doing temporary, seasonal and part-time labour, became desirable for employers and labour-receiving states, as this “flexible� labour could not benefit from the labour rights associated with permanent positions, especially if those rights were dependent on the employer for a working permit or resident status.46 In the 1980s, as many projects were completed and oil revenues dwindled, the demand for construction-oriented, generally male migrant labour shifted toward the service sector. As recruiters realized that the number of migrants outnumbered the number of foreign contracts available, they turned to low-skill, temporary migrant labourers to shoulder the costs for contracts and intermediary services that were previously paid by employers.47 Today, migrants are willing to use private agencies, as they may not have access to the social networks that would allow them to migrate without an existing contract. Since private


According to Philip Martin, the agricultural industry has long relied on migrant workers for labour, developing models of brokerage and wage regimes that paved the way for contractors to profit from the difference between what an employer would pay for a job and the wage an employee would accept from contractors to work. Contractors, as independent businesses, maximized profits by charging transportation and housing fees or by hiring many workers, each for only a few hours of work. The United States federal government began to regulate contractors by requiring them to register, post bonds, and assume joint liability. The last effort was contentious and, thus, never fully realized. 46 Martin, Merchants, 1. 47 Ibid, 9.

Bindra 24 agencies make a profit from each contract obtained and filled, most migrant workers wind up paying the cost of employer to employee “matching� in the form of lower wages. When agencies make profits on the number of recruits and foreign job contracts secured, it is easy to understand why private agencies are increasingly willing to recruit low-skill workers and promote low-status jobs, even if they may not know employers, the conditions of employment, or skills necessary for the job.48 Agencies are diverse. Some agencies operate on a one-time or part-time basis, at times resembling small mom-and-pop stores that are operated out of the personal homes of recruiters. Other agencies are highly specialized and bureaucratized businesses, recruiting thousands of migrants per year. Some agencies are directed by former government employees or sometimes started by former migrants themselves. For licensed, Philippine-based recruitment agencies, 70 per cent of the operation must be Filipino-owned. Many agencies are members of the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc (PASEI) or the Overseas Placement Agencies of the Philippines (OPAP). A great deal of the activities of recruitment and placement agencies are not covered under local or international labour laws, and indeed, some agency practices, even if formally licensed, constitute acts of smuggling and trafficking.49 Agency transactions, whether they are unlicensed and/or formally identified by the state, are often untraceable, as many migrants are falsely documented and do not receive official contracts or receipts for the fees that they pay. There is a


Ibid, 3. The execution of Sally Ordinario-Villanueva is a typical story of illegal trafficking. Sally was recruited by a family friend in Culiot, Manila. The recruiter told her of a service job in China, prepared her documents and told her to bring with her the luggage her new boss had previously left behind in the Philippines. At the airport in China, Sally was arrested and convicted of drug trafficking, although she claimed she was unaware of the heroin in the luggage. Sally, along with two other Filipino overseas workers used as drug mules, was executed on March 30th, 2011. She did not learn of her scheduled death until her family arrived in China to watch it happen. In 2011, the number of Filipinos of death row rose to 122. 49

Bindra 25 lack of complaints formally launched against agencies, even if migrants know their rights are being violated.50 Recruitment Many Filipinos are recruited directly from the rural areas from which they originate, through recruiter-runners, friends of families, recruitment drives and job fairs, and radio, TV, newspaper, and online advertisements.51 Typical first-time migrant workers are recruited from a rural area and brought to the closest city, such as Manila, Baguio, or Davao City, to begin the deployment process. They will most likely complete the process in Manila, where they will eventually leave from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).52 Many agencies entice applicants by offering free food and accommodation in Manila—an added cost to the migration process that is daunting to many applicants. Some also offer to pay for TESDA training, passport processing, medical checks, and other associated costs. However, most migrants end up bearing these costs on their own as many applicants from the provinces opt to go directly to Manila themselves to find an agency. Generally, the first step for land-based applicants is the screening process, one of the main services recruitment agencies advertise to foreign employers. Agencies must ensure that the workers they offer to employers are the right “fit” and of the proper “calibre.” Although one agency declared its willingness to process anyone with the proper “mind and spirit,” the screening process is usually quite rigorous and standardized. One agency deploying service workers to Canada described their screening method. First, applicants’ level of fitness and physical appearance is judged; then, personal information is recorded regarding the individual’s 50

Martin, Merchants, 9. James A. Tyner, "The Web-Based Recruitment of Female Foreign Domestic Workers in Asia," Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 20.2 (1999): 194. 52 Many Moro women, who are Muslim in faith, are preferred by similarly Muslim foreign employers in the Middle East or Indonesia and may leave directly from the Mindanao province. 51

Bindra 26 place of origin, history, marital status, number of family members, and/or dependents. Sometimes the financial situation of applicants is required in order to assess the general level of willingness, or need, migrants have in going abroad. As the agency owner explained, the placement fee for Canada is very high, and agencies must ensure that migrants are able to pay it. Other researchers have suggested that this line of questioning regarding personal debt and familial obligation also provides assurance to both agencies and employers that migrants are more likely to be obedient and have a harder work ethic.53 Agencies ask specific questions, presenting hypothetical situations to migrants and then asking them what they would do. For example, agencies may ask, “what will you do if you are not happy abroad? What happens if a family member gets sick, will you go back? What will you do if you are homesick? What will you do if the nature of your work changes? How will you make employers happy?” These questions serve both to make migrants aware of the realities they will be facing and also to guarantee the agency that the migrant is serious in becoming an OFW and is willing to endure possible hardships. One agency I spoke to pays great attention to applicants’ employment history. Although this is standard, as workers destined to countries with the highest wages, such as Canada, are often only eligible if they have had prior experience of at least two years in the field, some agencies further screen for compliancy and the “right work attitude.” If an applicant has been seen to work for several different employers in the Philippines without spending at least three years with one employer, the applicant is deemed a “troublemaker” and will not be recommended to work abroad. Another agency refused to deploy former OFWs who had previous working contracts prematurely terminated, who launched official complaints against an employer or agency, or who were otherwise thought to present any type of “problem” to previous 53

Tyner, “Web-Based Recruitment,” 200.

Bindra 27 employers or agencies. If, during the course of the interview, an applicant asks questions about holidays, wages or benefits, they would also not be recommended to employers. Several agencies also held the opinion that OFWs are “professional complainers”; they “shop” around for agencies and, upon deployment, act “victimized” in order to be repatriated to the Philippines and file a complaint against their agency. Some claimed that workers are “lazy,” only working for one year and then finding an excuse to leave the contract, making false accusations of labour violation or sexual harassment. Thus, the agencies explained that the ideal OFW candidate for overseas employment is quiet, compliant, and determined to work. For this reason, workers also avoid asking vital questions regarding the conditions of their employment during the screening process, aware that if they do, another worker who will not ask is willing to take their place. Private agencies, just as the Philippine state, work in the migration industry, an industry that must “cultivate the buyers’ criteria for the product available.”54 For example, when prospective domestic workers are publicized to foreign employers, employers are sometimes shown biographical data and images of workers in uniforms, hands clasped, and smiling. By conditioning the perception of the privileged-employer and subservient-employee relationship, employers are given the impression that workers will be submissive and willing to work nonstop, often justifying the material conditions of employment that treat workers as machines. Such (re)presentation of migrants reifies the vulnerability of migrants, as employers are socialized into disciplinary roles, informed by both state and labour brokerage rhetoric of the “right” attitude


Ibid, 199.

Bindra 28 and “proper” conduct of migrants.55 Thus, a request for a day-off, better conditions, or higher wages contradicts the image of the docile worker, seeming ostentatious and unreasonable. Deployment The debts that many unskilled Filipino workers incur just to become OFWs mean that most will have to work for at least three years abroad before being able to save or send back a portion their income. Many work for five or more two-year contracts. As migrants who leave for a second contract often return without the services of private recruitment agencies as directhires, many agencies have less incentive to abide by POEA regulations and charge excessive legal recruitment fees to first time OFWs.56 Although the POEA limits private recruitment fees to the sum of one month’s wages for a typical two-year contract, migrants continue to pay exorbitant recruitment fees, sometimes as high as two to four months’ wages.57 As is often the case, migrants are generally aware of the malpractice but agree to pay the fees as the prospect of better wages outweighs the short-term fee. One worker destined for Alberta explained that he did not have a choice, resigning himself to pay the fee because “all agencies will do it anyway.” Agencies, which often extract higher fees with the cooperation of employers, are rarely fined or punished. The practice is normalized and naturalized. Oftentimes, migrants will not have the money to pay fees upfront. One migrant worker described her situation when she did not have enough money to pay the deployment fee of her agency. The agency owner told her that he knew of a bank that would be willing to loan her money. He took down her information, passport number and address, and opened a bank 55

The racialization and feminization of these occupations carries various meanings in stratifying class relations, as employers feel they are buying not only labour in hiring a domestic worker but also the worker’s identity. Thus as hiring a domestic worker becomes a relative marker of employers’ status and class, certain migrant labourers, such as Filipinos, are regarded as more desirable than others. See Abigail B. Bakan and Daiva K. Stasiulis, “Making the Match: Domestic Placement Agencies and the Racialization of Women's Household Work,” Signs 20.2 (1995): 303-335. 56 Martin, Merchants, 12. 57 Ibid.

Bindra 29 account in her name. She was given a “loan� and was deployed abroad. Little did she know that the bank’s interest rate on the loan was nearly 10 per cent. She was also not aware that her wages would go directly into the bank account, first paying off both the agency fee and then the interest for the loan. She worked without having access to her wages for months, at which time she was still in debt to her agency and the bank. Some migrants are additionally told to sign a blank check to their agencies before departure and are subsequently defrauded while abroad. Others are charged an additional fee by the partner agency in the country of employment. Another worker recounted how her employer withheld her wages for an entire year while she worked as a domestic worker in Hong Kong. When asked why she was not getting paid, the employer told her that she must pay off the fees from the Hong Kong-based agency. Both agencies in the Philippines and Hong Kong did nothing to help her. After one year, she ran away and found refuge at a shelter for migrant workers. In Hong Kong, shelters usually allow a maximum stay of two weeks. According to Hong Kong law, migrant workers must find a new employment contract within two weeks or they must leave. Two weeks to find employment or stay in a shelter is hardly enough time to file and follow up with a legal complaint if the fault of termination lies with an employer or agency. Sometimes low-skill migrants find themselves arriving in a new country expected to perform jobs that they had not signed up for. Many domestic workers find that instead of working for one family in one household, they are expected to work for several households, to take care of several children at once, and to clean three to four houses a day, despite the working contract they received from their agencies. They also receive less pay than agreed upon and salaries are often delayed. Contract substitution is a common problem for many migrants deployed in domestic work, nursing, service, production, and manufacturing. Compounded by

Bindra 30 the problems mentioned above, many migrants suffer from psychological and physical abuse by employers and agencies. Even in countries such as Canada where strict regulations are stipulated regarding the working conditions of temporary foreign workers, these rights are easily negotiated. A Filipina agency owner, based in Hong Kong, who deploys domestic workers and caregivers through its partner agency in Toronto, told me that “it depends upon you, the employer, you can negotiate with the helper because most of the helpers are really very willing to go to Canada … even if they spend their own money, just to go to Canada.” She explained that according to the law, the employer would have to shoulder the cost of airfare but that, “depending on your arrangement,” the employer and employee could agree that the worker would refund the airfare amount to the employer after arriving to Canada. Regarding working hours and salary, she said “here in Hong Kong, work is twenty-four hours a day, but in Canada, only eight hours a day. Workers have Saturday and Sunday off and you have to pay for overtime. The salary is also a big difference … But it’s all negotiable.” If an employee gets sick or pregnant, the employer would be able to “trade” workers. Out of “respect for the employer and to avoid problems,” the employer would also be allowed to take the worker’s passport. The agency owner concluded, “as long as she has a place to sleep, if she’s already there you [the employer] can do whatever you want … in other words, you are the boss.” Services Available I asked an agency owner in Cotabato City if anyone had anyone run away from his or her job while deployed abroad. She said no. I asked again. She hesitated and then smiled sheepishly, “One time… but she ran away because she had a boyfriend.” She insisted that all of

Bindra 31 her workers were happy with the jobs they preformed and never complained. The only hardships that she thought workers might face were family problems at home and homesickness. The reality is that many migrants are afraid to complain. If they do, they do not receive any support. When efforts to receive help from an agency are exhausted, some turn to the closest overseas Philippine Embassy for recourse. Again, they rarely receive the help they need. Some are told to go to the POLO-OWWA. Yet migrants can only access OWWA funds (and other state resources and/or insurance) if they still have a working contract, which some may have lost if it was terminated unlawfully or they have had to flee their employment. Some migrants do eventually find refuge at POLO-OWWA shelters, if they are not first turned away. One migrant worker in Saudi Arabia ran away from her employer who attempted to rape her. She showed me a video of the POLO shelter she stayed at. It was a low-quality cell phone video, but the conditions in the shelter were clear and appalling. The room was overcrowded. There was garbage everywhere. The noise was overwhelming: static, garbled, and screeching. She told me it was the sound of over 100, maybe 200, stranded workers crying and shouting. They didn’t receive enough food. Many were runaways, without papers, even if they came documented in the first place, as employers often take papers upon arrival. Migrants stay in shelters like these for weeks and months until they are able to return to the Philippines. Some just give up and try to find another way home. “I went crazy” she said, “We all went crazy.” The repatriation and evacuation of Filipinos, in times of financial uncertainty and with recent political turbulence affecting Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and other areas in the Middle East and North Africa where a large number of Filipinos are deployed, has been slow and negligible. According to Migrante Internationale, an international migrants’ rights advocacy,

Bindra 32 support, and activist network, 2011 was “the worst year for OFWs.”58 When I interviewed the OWWA about the lack of services available to migrants, a representative said simply, “What can we do? We are undersourced. We don’t have the funds.” Despite the mandatory, often crippling, fees migrants must pay to the OWWA, the POEA, and towards health insurance, migrants are not given the support they need, both abroad and when they return. Although the OWWA provides services for OFWs and their families, including a social security fund and repatriation program for returning OFWs, programs are unsustainable and inadequate. There are also allegations that OWWA funds are misused. Some activists, as well as recruiters, would like to eliminate the OWWA altogether. Migrant advocates also criticize the compulsory PAG-IBIG insurance fund, as it undermines the already existing rule that holds employers and agencies jointly liable for migrants’ welfare. It further acts as a safety net for recruiters because agencies can act with the knowledge that the PAG-IBIG will assume the same liability that is covered by the agency cash/performance bond they are required to post. Accountability The implementation of POEA campaigns against illegal fees, illegal recruitment, and contract substitution are disregarded as migrants become desperate. They know that there are more applicants than jobs. And as agencies promise more jobs than are actually available, many migrants who paid deployment and recruitment fees find themselves waiting for months before being deployed, travelling abroad to perform work they had not agreed upon or, in some cases, find that the job they had been promised did not in fact actually exist. As migrants oftentimes incur significant debts in covering the costs of deployment and processing fees, migrants who do find a job abroad end up accepting the unfair conditions of the job available or being forced to


Janess Ann J. Ellao, “Worst year for OFWs,” Bulatlat (July 24 2011):

Bindra 33 work unregulated and exploitative jobs.59 Employers frequently deny responsibility for any contractual substitution or violation, as do agencies, forcing workers to accept the costs of mismanagement. Many migrants are reluctant to report cases of malpractice in the first place, as they are afraid to lose their jobs and to return home without repaying their debts. Many migrants also refer to the stigma of returning home as an OFW without money and the fear of shame they would bring to their families. Ultimately though, even if a migrant were willing to bring a problem forward to Philippine authorities, the Philippine state is powerless to negotiate a solution or achieve justice in a place of non-jurisdiction. Furthermore, even in matters of domestic jurisprudence, the prosecution of illegal recruitment and other agency or foreign employer malpractices is a costly, slow and tedious process, with minor success rates for migrants seeking recourse. For example, from 1992 to 2002, of the 650 cases filed alleging illegal recruitment, only 66 of the cases resulted in criminal conviction.60 Many attribute the lack of penalties and convictions to a corrupt and inefficient court system, as well as to the unwillingness of victims to file charges or follow them through. Many migrants do not have the funds to pay lawyer fees, are desperate to return home (as most complains are launched in Manila), or cannot forgo the potential wages of another job abroad or in the Philippines. IDEALS61, an advocacy NGO based in Manila, added that even if a complaint is filed, the paperwork (oftentimes in English, which not all migrants can understand) and 59

Early Filipino migrant worker campaigns focused on Filipinas who left for 3-month contracts in Japan as entertainers that often ended up work as hostesses, guest relation’s officers, or sex workers – occupations now deemed “vulnerable.” 60 Martin, Merchants, 13. 61 IDEALS provides free legal counselling on international trade, land rights and migrants’ defence. They reported that the lack of state services and resources places the responsibility of educational training, policy research and the provision of services on civilians and other non-state actors. Most of the cases they deal with involve recruitment agencies that traffic migrants, charge illegal placement fees, and misrepresent employment, wages, benefits, and employers. They believe that not enough migrants are informed of their rights, nor do they have the access or means to file a complaint.

Bindra 34 bureaucracy is intimidating and deters many from continuing with the proceedings. Cases can take up to one year or more to be adjudicated. Agencies delay proceedings and sometimes pressure migrants to settle out of court to avoid blacklisting. One advocacy group mentioned that migrants, as well as their advocates, had received anonymous death threats while pursuing a complaint. Potential Solutions While some argue that joint liability would make agencies more accountable, PASEI argues that joint reliability is unfair as they may not know foreign employers or jobs that well. They argue that more regulation is not the solution as the proliferation of government regulation only results in increases to the cost of sending workers abroad. Especially as world financial markets become unstable, as receiving-countries limit the contracts of migrant labourers, and as other labour sending-countries aggressively seek to deploy lower-wage earning migrants, the Philippine government contends that, more regulation only hinders the ability of people to migrate. They feel that it is in the state’s interest to deregulate, as it is obvious that agencies are only performing the job the state cannot handle itself. Some recruiters argued that sending more highly-skilled, English-speaking migrants would ensure the protection of migrant workers, even if fewer are deployed. Existing regulation should be enforced by eliminating the red tape in penalizing agencies for agency/employer malpractices, increasing penalty fines, resolving cases faster, and encouraging migrants to come forward by disseminating information on rights and recourses. One advocacy group suggested that more regulation should be introduced that would require agencies to maintain websites with stable content and to publish information on public registries concerning the numbers, occupations, and destinations of yearly OFW deployment; the number of years the agency has

Bindra 35 been in operation; and general emergency and safety information for migrants. Implementing current regulations and presenting stricter regulation would ensure that failing firms would exit the industry. Another group maintained that the Philippine government should entirely stop deploying workers to countries where they do not have jurisdiction and only deploy to countries where bilateral agreements have been established between governments. Some advocates say this may be a step, but cite unfair bilateral labour agreements, such as Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) as evidence that bilateral agreements may only work to formalize the unequal bargaining power and subsequent unbalanced terms of employment exchange. PASEI presented an alternative view, expressing that rather than decertifying countries altogether, only foreign employers that have violated labour laws should be banned in order to avoid “a diplomatic row”. Conclusion In uncovering the “market” of migration, the Philippine state has garnered praise for its highly developed system of migration regulation. As employers and state actors are favoured in the contracts negotiated under bilateral agreements, multinational forums applaud labour export programs for complying with and adhering to the paradigms of neoliberal hegemony.62 Indeed, the sustenance of “Washington Consensus” policies in the Philippines, in which deregulation, privatization, and labour flexibilization enable host countries to hire cheap labour, consecrate an international hierarchy of labour which in turn solidifies a hierarchy of citizenship. Many Filipinos migrate because they are able to earn higher wages abroad, even if they are deskilled in the process. However, as migrant workers are recruited with the intention of only fulfilling specific labour “needs” of receiving countries, they enter receiving countries as non62

In 2008, the Philippines hosted the UN-sponsored Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).

Bindra 36 citizens in the often “private” domain, performing work that is largely considered unskilled and is thus devalued. Those with precarious “visitor” status are compelled to endure exploitative working conditions under the threat of deportation or sudden contractual termination. Filipinos, along with other migrant workers, are the first to lose to their jobs in times of economic instability and are rarely afforded the opportunity to attain higher status jobs.63 Yet the reality of exporting labour is not simply a story of unilateral capitalist economic restructuring or chiefly of unfair immigration and labour policies of labour-receiving countries. Antifeli is former migrant worker who worked in Hong Kong for over 15 years to send money back to her family in the Philippines and pay for her children’s education. As a single mother, she relied on other members of her extended family in the Philippines to raise her children. Three out of her four children were able to graduate from college. Her youngest child has had difficulty finishing school or finding a job. Two of her college-educated daughters work in the Middle East as domestic workers, just as Antifeli once did. Antifeli now raises her daughter’s child, who had to be left behind so her mother could work abroad. The cycle does not seem to stop. Although the Philippine labour-export program is said to be a temporary solution to unemployment, it has now been in existence for more than 40 years, and the reality of asymmetrical economic development remains the same. Gary Martinez, president of Migrante Internationale, remarks that “OFWs are still forced to go abroad because the government has offered them nothing substantive and sustainable to address their family’s economic needs.


Abigail B. Bakan and Davia K. Stasiulis, Not One of the Family: Foreign Domestic Workers in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997), 12.

Bindra 37 Instead, what it has offered are mere dole-outs and band-aid solutions that do not do anything to address widespread unemployment and landlessness - the root cause of forced migration.”64 It is this contradiction that I wish to highlight: although the state wishes to alleviate unemployment and underemployment, the local economy is not developed. Although the overseas employment program expands and becomes more and more adept at deploying migrants, the state is unable to procure the necessary protection for its workers as the institutions erected to safeguard the “heroes” of the nation are underfunded. As the private recruitment industry gains more political clout, wealth and strength, the legal process that regulates them is undermined and hollowed out. As out-migration is further recast as an individual choice and as a mode of self-empowerment, the POEAs “facilitation” of OFWs “choice” to go abroad holds migrants accountable for any consequences that arise under the “disciplinary gaze” of the state. In the process of deployment and in the strategies OFWs receive on lessening their vulnerability, the structural conditions that give rise to their mistreatment are left unaddressed by the state and responsibility is displaced back onto to migrants. The institutionalization of bureaucratic, centralized and state-sponsored overseas employment programs prioritizes short-term economic needs over the fundamental rights of migrant workers. Yet the political will to hold the private recruitment industry and the state accountable for upholding these rights will only be realized if the dependence on remittances ends. The solution does not lie in merely restricting immigration, as impoverished and unemployed people will find other, more irregular, ways to migrate. Rather, the state must offer viable alternatives to migration, altering its market-driven education and skills training system and addressing broader societal concerns. A crony capitalist economy, feudalistic and dominated by large landowners, coupled with a corrupt government, only exacerbates the pressures to 64


Bindra 38 emigrate as the majority of Filipinos are denied their right to land, sustainable local jobs and higher wages. It is clear that a multinational and multi-pronged approach is required to encourage key stakeholders to cooperate on migration practices in countries of origin, transit and destination. Yet ultimately, it is the Philippine state that is responsible for initiating structures of genuine care and governance.


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Bindra 40 Martin, Philip L. Merchants of Labour: Agents of the Evolving Migration Infrastructure. Geneva: International Institute for Labour Studies, 2005. Parrena, Rhacel S. "Migrant Filipina Domestic Workers and the International Division of Reproductive Labour." Gender & Society 14 (2000): 560-581. POEA. “About POEA.” July 17 2011. <>. POEA. Compendium of OFW Statistics 2009 (June 16 2011): POEA. Compendium of OFW Statistics 2010 (December 3 2011): POEA. “Hiring Filipino Workers” (June 19 2011): POEA. “Filipino Workers: Moving the World Today.” (July 17 2011): POEA. “Status of Recruitment Agencies” (January 2 2012): Rodriguez, Robyn M. Migrants for Export: How the Philippine State Brokers Labor to the World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010. Tubeza, Philip. “Philippines on right track but problems remain, says int’l labor official.” Philippine Daily Inquirer (December 5th 2011): Tyner, James A. "Global Cities and Circuits of Global Labor: the Case of Manila, Philippines." Professional Geographer 52.1 (2000): 61-74. Tyner, James A. "The Web-Based Recruitment of Female Foreign Domestic Workers in Asia." Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 20.2 (1999): 193-209. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2008 Revision (June 2010):

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