Explainer: Labour Migration in the Philippines by Norman Zafra

Labour migration is a common feature within democracies and is undertaken by most capitalist states. For citizens of developing countries, the decision to migrate is related overwhelmingly to the search for economic betterment or social mobility. Although migration has been inherent in the Philippines beginning 1900s when Filipinos started working in sugarcane plantations in Hawaii, it was only in the 1970s when labour migration was regulated by the government. The Presidential decree No. 442 or the New Labor Code of the Philippines introduced strategic provisions on labour migration and systematised the recruitment policies of the state. Three agencies were subsequently created: the Bureau of Employment Services, the National Seaman’s Board and the Overseas Employment Development Board. The latter was specifically mandated to promote the overseas employment of Filipino workers through a comprehensive market promotion and development program, as stated in the New Labor Code.

Twelve years after, the functions of the three government bodies were merged into a single government unit – the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration or POEA. The agency was charged to oversee and regulate labour migration policies in the country. Because of the increasing labour demand in the subsequent years, POEA’s mandate was focused more on licensing private recruitment entities and facilitating employment contracts, including government to government arrangements and bilateral agreements. Other functions such as migrant welfare and protection were assumed by another body, the Welfare Fund (now Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Today, 2.3 million Overseas Filipino Workers are deployed in roughly 140 countries worldwide, a huge increase compared to the 35,000 workers when overseas deployment was institutionalised by law in 1970s. In the year 2016 alone, The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reported that overseas Filipinos remitted almost US$27 billion back to the Philippines - enough to decrease the poverty incidence in the country. Despite overwhelming economic contribution of overseas workers, others are sceptical about the social consequences of Filipino parents’ sustained separation from their families as well as the weak protection and benefits provided by the government to distressed Filipino workers.

 

Distribution of Overseas Filipino Workers 2017

Sum total: 2.3 Million 

Statistics shows that Saudi Arabia is the leading country of destination among OFWs (25.4%), followed by United Arab Emirates (15.3%), Kuwait (6.7%), Hong Kong (6.5%) and Qatar (5.5%).