ILO chief cites need to boost state efforts to help migrant workers

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

INTERNATIONAL Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General Gilbert F. Houngbo on Tuesday cited progress in Philippine efforts to help returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) find local jobs, but cited the need for more international collaboration on migrant worker issues.

“What I’ve seen in the discussions I’ve had with the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) gives me hope and confirms what I know about the Filipino model in handling migrant workers’ issues,” he said in a speech during a visit to the Migrant Worker Resource Centre in Quezon City.

“The importance you attach to the family members left back home while workers are abroad is remarkable and this is what we are advocating for at the ILO,” he added.

The government needs to work with the ILO and other global partners to help migrant workers who are struggling and not being afforded their basic rights, Mr. Houngbo said.

The ILO chief is visiting the Philippines to meet with heads of government agencies, labor groups and employer representatives.

On Monday, he met with Migrant Workers Secretary Maria Susana “Toots” V. Ople, Labor Secretary Bienvenido E. Laguesma, labor and employer’s groups.

The Migrant Worker Resource Centre is a one-stop-shop for overseas Filipino workers set up in 2019 as a collaboration between the ILO and Quezon City government.

The facility also provides reintegration services for returning OFWs by linking them with local employers.

Mr. Houngbo said the Philippines showed that it is serious about upholding migrant workers’ rights after it ratified ILO conventions on labor migration

“Institutions such as the Migrant Workers Resource Centre are essential in creating an environment where migrant workers are welcome and their contributions are valued,” he said.

The facility has helped almost 300 OFWs and their families since it was set up in August, Quezon City Mayor Josefina “Joy” G. Belmonte said at the event.

Quezon City allows migrant workers to have the Migrant Workers Resource Centre look after their children while they work overseas.

“It is our desire to help mitigate the social cost of migration especially for the children left behind by their overseas working parents,” she said.

The ILO chief also spoke with OFWs and their families at the event, where they detailed experiences of domestic abuse by foreign employers, and the lack of support for workers with disabilities.

“Addressing these issues will require more international collaboration and the implementation of cross-border solutions,” Mr. Houngbo said.  “We must work together to address these systemic problems and show that the rights of migrant workers are safeguarded at every step.”

In August, the ILO said only 6% of domestic workers worldwide have access to comprehensive social protection.

It said the Philippines was the only country in Southeast Asia to ratify the Domestic Workers Convention in 2011. The country passed the Domestic Workers Act a year later, which set a minimum wage, outlined benefits and improved the terms of employment for domestic workers.

Earlier this month, the DMW partnered with the Trade department to enhance the government’s financial literacy and upskilling programs for migrant Filipino workers  who want to come home for good.

It also teamed up with the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development to provide more affordable housing to OFWs.

Money sent home by OFWs rose by 3% in March to $2.67 billion from a year earlier amid improving economic conditions in host countries, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

In February, a team of ILO representatives met with trade unions and government officials to discuss human rights violations against workers and union organizers.

That month, trade unions submitted a joint report to the ILO mission on labor rights violations, saying the government has failed to comply with ILO conventions on freedom of association and the right to organize.

“We have to transform migration from a necessity to an informed choice,” Mr. Houngbo said.