Celebrating working class women

Community News & Features Apr 25, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Womens-Day-DSC_0424By Catherine Carpio

On March 8, 2014, Migrante Canada member organizations – Filipino Migrant Workers Movement (FMWM), Independent Women Workers Association (iWWorkers), and Binnadang (a Cordillera people’s organization in Toronto) – joined progressive organizations Bayan Canada, Anakbayan Toronto, Gabriela Ontario and other migrant and women’s organizations to celebrate International Women’s Day and to honour this day as one for working class women.

106 years ago, around 30,000 women workers marched through New York City to protest their low wages, their mandatory 12-hour work per day and their poor-working conditions. Today, the struggle of the working class women continues.

In the Philippines, the Labour Export Policy (LEP) that started in the 1970s is being intensified under the BS Aquino administration. His failure to provide decent jobs forces Filipinos to leave the country. There are about 4,000 Filipinos leaving the country every day in search of work abroad. More than half of these are women, most of whom are currently employed as domestic workers, live-in caregivers and personal support workers.

Womens-Day-DSC_0318Canada has become one of the top destinations. The nature of how these women work – under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program – puts them in a precarious situation. The job-specific, and employer-specific working conditions, and the live-in requirement allow abuse and exploitation of many Filipino migrant women workers. This is why Migrante and Bayan Canada call on the Canadian government (particularly Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander) to reassess immigration policy and grant permanent resident status to live-in caregivers upon arrival. Maru Maesa of the iWWorkers said, “They play a crucial role in nation building, and therefore should be socially-included and protected. Live-in caregivers should be able to enjoy basic employment rights, such as those to a living wage and to collective bargaining, and such benefits as that to health and safety coverage.”

Meanwhile, the Philippine government has shown very little concern to none at all for the grievances of migrant women workers. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) admitted to its failure to the mandate of the Presidential Task Force Against Illegal Recruitment (PTFAIR). Last year, there were 1,353 victims of illegal recruitment not including those who didn’t file a formal complaint. Without decent jobs or livelihood, Filipino women (and men) are lured and deceived by profit-hungry recruiters.

Womens-Day-DSC_0453Despite being hailed as “modern heroes” for bailing out the otherwise weak and remittance-dependent economy, the government continues to exact fees from Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs). One OFW is forced to pay no less than P4,416.25 for PhilHealth and Pag-ibig contributions and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) fees. When faced with difficulties abroad however, Philippine embassies or consulates are slow, if not completely fail to reach out or provide services to Filipino migrants in need. Oftentimes, the government acts on welfare cases only when pounded upon by concerned organizations.

In Canada, the absence of a consular office in Alberta is one of the many problems that Filipinos are facing. The process of renewing a passport that would cost an average of $69 is magnified ten times over to $700 when Filipinos travel to the consular office in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) should speed up their assessment of the need for, and allocate a budget to open a consular office to serve the more than 100,000 “modern heroes” in the province of Alberta.

Womens-Day-IMG_3294In the province of Ontario, women (and men) workers are struggling to make both ends meet. Many Filipinos work two or three jobs but still remain poor. They could hardly afford a healthy meal for their families let alone a vacation like most Canadians do. The current minimum wage of $10.25 per hour has been frozen for the last three years. It is with clenched fists then that Migrante and Bayan organizations in Toronto support the “$14 Minimum Wage” campaign.

In its March 8 statement, ANAKBAYAN-Toronto called for taking “power back to the people.” The young women and men declared, “We will continue to work towards the genuine national development in the Philippines, for the welfare of Filipinos in Canada and to demand fairness and justice for all people.”