OFW difficulties, vulnerabilities, a banned petition and a walkout

Top News Nov 8, 2019 at 4:40 pm
Philippine Overseas Labor Office staff and Toronto Philippine Consulate officials flank Deputy Minister David Corbett of the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development

Philippine Overseas Labor Office staff and Toronto Philippine Consulate officials flank Deputy Minister David Corbett of the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development

1st Filipino Migrant Workers Convention:

By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

(Names marked with an asterisk have been changed to protect identities.)

TORONTO–Winston* and his friend Guillermo* took their Sunday off, travelling to attend a migrant workers convention in the bitter cold Sunday morning of Nov. 3.

They originally had an appointment with Atty. Rachel Zozobrado-Nagayo at the Toronto office of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) to inquire about what they believed to be a breach of their employment contract. Fraught relations with their employer who they said were exploiting them pushed them to consult the office of the labor attaché.

Winston had worked as a marine cook before jumping off ship and resurfacing as harvester in a mushroom farm in southern Ontario, where he met Guillermo, a civil engineer turned temporary foreign worker in the same farm. Both had gone to different jobs in the past two years to earn a living and to support their respective families back in war-torn and earthquake-hit Mindanao island in the Philippines.They said they cannot afford to be jobless for too long. They knew they can’t go back easily to the Philippines.

“Patience, compassion, and hard work” have defined Filipinos. These are values of OFWs, short for Overseas Filipino workers, said Connie Manzo, a service provider from Accreditation and Qualification Information Services (AQIS) and one of the speakers of the Nov. 3rd event.

For Manzo, these qualities serve as top reasons why employers prefer to hire them, as her voice echoed in the main ballroom of The 519 Community Centre on Church St. in Toronto that sat more than a hundred people. The event, called “1st Filipino Migrant Workers Convention” was hosted by Philippine Labor Office (POLO) in cooperation with the Toronto Philippine Consulate.

POLO’s 1st Filipino Migrant Workers Convention was held at the Ballroom, The 519  Community Centre in downtown Toronto.

POLO’s 1st Filipino Migrant Workers Convention was held at the Ballroom, The 519 Community Centre in downtown Toronto.

Despite the positive stereotypes, however, prospects of OFWs to survive and to thrive with higher standards of living in this part of Canada are still faced with difficulties and persistent challenges, like those of Winston’s and Guillermo’s.

“In my case, natatakot ako makipag-usap sa employer ko, siyempre in process pa yung working permit ko. Inaasahan ko rin na safe kahit pa yung kontrata hindi nasusunod eh,” said Katrina Marie Pates, a caregiver for 17 months.

To which another caregiver Aiza Rubio agreed. “Some employers don’t pay extra hours.” Originally from Aklan and Bicol respectively, Rubio and Pates came to Mississauga by way of Hong Kong. Both relied on Facebook for getting updates, given their distance and limited mobility, but met each other only on that day. They blend in the crowd, a change of air from their past lives yet still yearning for home. “Hindi ako nakapag-celebrate ng Christmas nang ten years sa atin. That’s why it’s really hard sometimes,” Rubio added.

Even for others who have either landed immigrant status or have relatively more stable economic livelihood, it still is important to be informed and participate in such gathering because hard work and perseverance are not enough for success.

“Yung finance kasi, di lang pansarili. Kung andito ka, wala kang pamilya, ikaw lang din bubuhay sa sarili mo. Ikaw magbabayad lahat ng bills,” said Joanne Orpiada, who having worked as a nurse in Saudi Arabia, became a caregiver and eventually found her pathway to permanent residency after two years. “Kailangan mo talagang mag-sacrifice dun sa bagay na gusto mo. For example, iisipin mo ‘Hindi muna ako mag-aaral, kasi kailangan kong magpadala sa Pilipinas.’”

“Yung mga bago nandito, nangangapa kung saan ba talaga pupunta. So kung may mga organization na pwedeng mapag-alamanan makakatulong yun,” she said.

Allan Basa of TV Natin, seated to the right of Toronto Labor Attaché Rachel Zozobrado-Nagayo, signs a partnership agreement for the public service show.

Allan Basa of TV Natin, seated to the right of Toronto Labor Attaché Rachel Zozobrado-Nagayo, signs a partnership agreement for the public service show.

Against the backdrop of unemployment and so-called poverty incidence in the Philippines, Senior Trade Commissioner in Canada Maria Roseni “Nini” M. Alvero reiterated the need for entrepreneurship and investments to increase incomes as per figures on the government’s reintegration programme for OFWs. Other speakers tackled issues on family reunification, de-professionalization, employment standards, etc.

Meanwhile, a ceremonial signing of partnership between POLO and TV Natin was conducted as part of its public service mandate. The Labor Office in cooperation with Philippine Consulate office in Toronto boosts efforts to engage OFWs. Consul General Orontes Castro said the event is significant because this year marks the 70th anniversary of bilateral relations between the two countries.

“This Convention is an important platform to discuss ways to improve the living and working conditions of Filipino migrant workers here in Toronto and other places in Ontario. Our activities include sharing the services provided by several government and community organizations in the city and province, as well as discussions related to migrant workers’ employment including their rights and responsibilities as workers in Ontario,” said Castro in a statement.

An estimated 900,000 people of Filipino ancestry or background live in Canada; close to 50 percent are in the Greater Toronto Area. Compared to any other migrant communities, Filipinos send more international money transfers from Canada, according to Statistics Canada. Women make up a very large portion of immigrants admitted to Canada under the live-in care program.

Halfway through the plenary sessions, some worker advocates from Migrante Canada walked out of the venue, slamming the POLO and its “good for nothing” event.  The group said some of their members asked the organizers if they could circulate a petition on behalf of undocumented migrant workers, specifically as part of a campaign called Justice for Mushroom 4.

The paper, which is addressed to the Ontario Ministry of Labour, was a call to regulate recruitment and to promote migrant protection in the province. Migrante said they were brushed aside and was told that it was not a space for signing petitions.

They also voiced concerns that the convention does not allow for workers to voice their actual demands, such as the right to a decent wage and suitable living conditions. The group hit the government agency for functioning like a business entity milking OFWs for profit.

“Most of all, we want an end to the government’s anti-people programs and labour export policy that have sent thousands of OFWs abroad only to return as corpses in wooden crates.”