The Committee on Migrant Workers this afternoon concluded its consideration of the third periodic report of the Philippines on how it implements the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, with Committee Experts commending the ratification of key International Labour Organization conventions, and raising issues concerning exploitative practices in recruitment agencies and the alleged murder of a Filipina domestic worker in Kuwait.
A Committee Expert commended the country for signing eight of the key International Labour Organization conventions as well as 143 and 189, which had links to migration.
Edgar Corzo Sosa, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, recalled the Committee’s recommendations that the State party improve a system to accredit recruitment agencies to prevent them from charging excessive fees, or even to outlaw commissions on placements abroad. What steps had been taken to implement these observations?
Further, Mr. Corzo Sosa said the alleged murder of Jullebee Ranara in Kuwait was of concern. How did bilateral agreements ensure access to justice in such tragic cases?
Maria Susana V. Ople, Minister of the Department of Migrant Workers, and head of delegation, said in opening remarks said the Department of Migrant Workers was the newest agency in the executive department. Its mandate was to regulate access to healthcare and legal aid, allow migrant workers to file complaints and monitor the actions of recruitment agencies. Further, in 2023, the Philippines rolled out a regional mechanism, one of two in Asia, to better implement recommendations from the United Nations and other multi-lateral organisations. The State party sought to respond to the nexus between labour migration and climate change, online illegal recruitment and human trafficking of migrant workers and a lack of awareness of the rights of foreign domestic workers.
The delegation said recommendations of the Committee on recruitment agencies were considered and policy was strengthened accordingly. A strict licensing system existed and out of 452 licence applicants, only 104 were granted between 2018 and 2022. Licenced recruitment agencies were required to adhere to strict rules and any violation would result in the cancellation of the licence. In 2022, 124 recruitment agencies were suspended and 59 licences had been cancelled for various offences, including excessive collection of fees. Annual and surprise inspections of these agencies were also carried out.
If foul play was suspected regarding a death abroad, foreign service personnel would ensure collaboration with local authorities to establish the cause of death. Following the alleged killing of Juleebee Ranara at the hands of her employer’s son, a ban on migrant workers travelling to Kuwait was discussed in congress. In the end, labour diplomacy was the chosen route. The Kuwait Government had invited the Department of Migrant Workers for a bilateral meeting. The Philippines was considering disqualifying the employing agencies and the households involved in such incidents.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Ople said the dialogue reminded the State party to constantly strive to engage civil society, uphold the rights of migrants in the country and protect the families of those left behind, especially children, from the social cost of labour migration. The Philippines held the view that migrant workers’ rights were human rights and would continue to care for them in times of need. It would continue to call on receiving States to accede to the Convention.
Jasminka Dzuhmur, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, in closing remarks, said that from each periodic report to the next, progress had been made and it was important to continue on that path. The establishment of the Department of Migrant Workers was a big step. Now, the State party was tasked with increasing the capacity of this Department and spreading awareness about its mandate.
Pablo Ceriani Cernadas, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, in his closing remarks, said the challenges facing the State party were vast, including domestic structural issues forcing migration and legal challenges in receiving countries. The Committee would respond with constructive short, medium and long term recommendations.
The delegation of the Philippines was made up of representatives of the Department of Migrant Workers; the Human rights Committee Secretariat; the Department of Social Welfare and Development; the Department of Justice; the Office of the Court Administrator; the Department of Foreign Affairs; the Philippine Statistics Authority; the Department of Health; and the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee on Migrant Worker’s thirty-sixth session is being held from 27 March to 6 April. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m., Friday 31 March to continue its consideration of the third periodic report of El Salvador (CMW/C/SLV/3).
The Committee has before it the third periodic report of the Philippines (CMW/C/PHL/3).
Presentation of the Report
MARIA SUSANA V. OPLE, Minister of the Department of Migrant Workers, and head of delegation, said that the newest agency in the executive department was the Department of Migrant Workers, which had jurisdiction over the implementation of the country’s laws and policies, multilateral and bilateral agreements. It had led the ratification of international instruments relevant to the rights of migrant workers and their families. Its purpose was to protect the rights of migrant workers, valorise Philippine workers no matter their location and to promote a rights-based approach to labour migration and migration governance. Following the devastating earthquake in Türkiye this year, the Department worked in tandem with other Government agencies and the embassy to offer aid but also repatriate Philippines migrants in the region.
The pandemic saw the largest reverse migration of the Philippine diaspora in 50 years, and some chose to stay within the country. Overseas Filipino workers were cared for like family and the country had always adhered to its obligations under the Convention to the best of its ability. The Philippines joined many other countries in their call for a wider ratification of the Convention.
In line with its commitment to the Global Compact for Migration and its according reinforcement of State legislation, two major action plans were developed in partnership with civil society and the International Organization for Migration. The first was the National Action Plan on Fair and Ethical Recruitment and the second was a National Action Plan on Gender-Responsive Return and Reintegration for Overseas Filipino Workers.
The Department for Migrant Workers’ mandate was to regulate access to healthcare and legal aid, allow migrant workers to file complaints and monitor the actions of recruitment agencies. The Department cancelled the operating licences of recruitment agencies that carried out corrupt activities.
Other agencies dealing with migration had achieved significant developments. Cash transfers were distributed to overseas Filipino workers who had lost work due to COVID-19. Social workers were available for families and children left behind by migrant workers and the Department of Social Welfare and Development issued guidelines intended to reduce the requirements and increase support regarding the applications of minors traveling abroad for the purpose of reunion. The country had intensified efforts to combat modern slavery as co-chairs of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking. Further, in 2023, the Philippines rolled out a regional mechanism, one of two in Asia, called the National Recommendations Tracking Database, to better implement recommendations from the United Nations and other multi-lateral organisations.
In the wake of the pandemic, the Philippines sought to respond to myriad challenges in migration, specifically the nexus between labour migration and climate change, online illegal recruitment and human trafficking of migrant workers and a lack of awareness of the rights of foreign domestic workers. The country looked forward to the Committee’s advice and recommendations regarding these issues. The State party would reference these in the creation of national policy and legislation, aiming to develop a rights-based approach to labour mobility and migration governance.
Questions by Committee Experts
PABLO CERIANI CERNADAS, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked about the causes of migration. Why were so many people migrating from the Philippines to seek well-being for themselves and their families? What policies had addressed the root causes of migration, so that the people of the Philippines could have access to decent work within the country? What concrete data was available on gender equality and the impact of national employment policies aiming to reduce needs-based immigration? There was an over-representation of women in migratory work. Over 70 per cent of the population were women who left to work in domestic labour, though they were highly qualified individuals. Why was this? What migration policies addressed migrant populations within the Philippines? Were they migrants from other countries with irregular status? What was the situation of trafficking in the country? How did the State party intervene to support Philippine migrants abroad in an irregular situation? What did access to justice look like for migrants? Trials reportedly could take up to seven years to conclude. What efforts were made to obtain justice in a shorter time frame?
What programmes, specifically mental health support, were available to support children of parents who had migrated abroad? Were more details available on the programme to unite children with their parents abroad? Were these visits temporary or did the programme unite families for the duration of their stay abroad? Did bilateral agreements allow for families to work overseas?
The Philippines played an active role in the Global Compact for Migration, and in regulating recruiting agencies. What steps were left to further regulate these practices and had the State party considered ratifying International Labour Organization Convention 181? What was the situation of trade unions in the country?
JASMINKA DZUHMUR, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, noted the large presence of women in the delegation and thanked them for their presence. She asked if the law allowing the refusal of entry into the country on ill-health or pregnancy had been amended. What was the status of the National Human Rights Commission? Its independence had to be ensured to protect not only the rights of Philippine people abroad but also within the country. How many members did the Commission have? Was it in line with the Paris Principles?
The Department of Migrant Workers was established in 2022. Was it sufficiently resourced? What were the Department’s needs? How did its work directly affect migrant workers and what awareness raising was being done to that end?
Was the periodic report written in consultation with civil society organisations? If so, how was that work organised? Could the delegation provide examples of civil society actors included in the process?
EDGAR CORZO SOSA, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked whether the State party could provide information on hiring and firing processes of National Human Rights Commission members. Several initiatives were slow to pass within the Commission. What did the changes involve and why were they necessary?
In concluding observations regarding the State party’s second periodic report, the Committee recommended that the State party improve a system to accredit recruitment agencies to prevent them from charging excessive fees, or even to outlaw commissions on placements abroad. What steps had been taken to implement these observations? How was the right to vote for Philippine migrants abroad ensured? The presidential election of 2022 saw more than 680,000 foreign voters, with 40 per cent participation. Could migrants abroad vote in local and legislative elections also? Could they become elected representatives?
The creation of the Department of Migrant Workers was commendable, and the Committee remained available to the State party if it ever sought advice or recommendations. How was the Department’s mandate different than other Government agencies and were Philippine migrants aware of all the services it offered?
A Committee Expert noted the recent development of bilateral agreements with the Republic of Korea in agricultural and fishing sectors. What mechanisms existed to ensure that their rights were protected? Rights violations of Philippine migrants in Japan were of concern. How were their rights protected, and how were victims provided with redress?
Another Expert asked about female oversees workers in the Philippines who reportedly felt they had no other choice but to leave. Clauses in these workers’ contracts were often not respected. What mechanisms or services ensured compliance with the work contracts for these female workers? Rights violations in these cases were serious. Did any studies exist on the impact, psychological or otherwise, on the families they left behind? Did a return and reintegration policy exist for migrant workers? Could they learn other professions? What oversight existed for private sector and online recruitment agencies? Could an oversight mechanism sanction these companies? Did a council of overseas workers exist to address their general concerns?
Another Committee Expert asked about how the Convention was disseminated. Was it translated into the national languages or for foreign workers in the Philippines? What work was being done with civil society on this issue? What was the number of associations active in protecting migrant rights? Did trainings exist to raise awareness on migrant rights?
What measures were taken by the State to facilitate the return of migrants and their families in line with the Convention and what support was specifically provided to vulnerable women? In 2020, there were protests calling for State support on the International Day of Migrants. How had the State party responded concretely? How did the role of the migrant mother alter gender relations in the family by changing parental roles? Some studies showed a sense of abandonment for children. Were there mechanisms set up to address this problem?
An Expert commended a bilateral agreement with Canada to allow Philippine nurses to work in Canada. Could more information be provided on it? How was regular migration ensured to protect Philippine nurses in Canada?
A Committee Expert noted that there were Philippine diasporas found throughout the world and there were three types of migration: irregular, regular and seasonal. One specific aspect was the feminine-gendered nature of migration. Figures were contradictory, however. What statistics were available on the gender makeup of migrants? Could the data be disaggregated by the country in which the migrants were working? What studies had been done on the psychological impact on children who had an inconsistent relationship with their mothers? For female domestic workers, what programmes existed to address high levels of harassment, sexual or otherwise? How was the State party involving migrant workers in local development in and outside of the country?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that the Philippines had a long history of labour governance, dating back to the first law on the subject in 1974. The current Marcos administration had an economic development plan which included a focus on tourism and a massive retraining of the workforce. It would increase employment locally and decrease poverty by generating more and better quality jobs. The Department of Migrant Workers was accountable through annual and five-year reporting periods to Congress. The national reintegration centre was tasked with aiding recently returned migrants’ insertion in the workforce, in cooperation with other Government agencies. The Philippines recently joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Japan, which demonstrated its intention to grow economically.
Overseas Filipino workers were the focus of legislation under this administration. To that end, the Government made it clear that would act to make overseas employment a choice and not a necessity. Furthermore, the World Economic Forum had ranked the Philippines 19th in its gender gap index. The Philippines ranked even higher at 16th for economic participation and opportunity. Policies that strengthened employment of women nationally included the recent passage of the Magna Carta of Women, which had a clause on non-discrimination, and laws that supported single working parents; the removal of the prohibition on night work for parents; and increased maternity leave. If women did decide to work abroad, protections existed, especially for vulnerable women. Agencies around the world worked with overseas Filipino workers in case of violation of their rights, offering legal redress and representation. A 2010 law on domestic work establishing a minimum wage for domestic workers was further bolstered by the Association of South-East Asian Nations’ Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. The Philippines had signed the International Labour Organization convention on domestic labour, and the Abu Dhabi Dialogue and Colombo Process also strengthened the protection of migrants. A variety of services and a “Children’s Circle” catered to the children of overseas Filipino workers, including through values formation and recreational activities.
The Philippines actively engaged with civil society organisations, including private sector stakeholders, in the creation and implementation of its programmes. Boards on migrant workers and trafficking in persons decided on rules and the allocation of resources. The Department of Migrant Workers was empowered to appoint civil society organisations to these bodies. Tripartite councils for land- and sea-based workers were involved in drafting the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration rules. Civil society organisations also participated in drafting health policy.
The President had emphasised the importance of assisting overseas workers. The Department of Migrant Workers had a budget of over 200 million United States dollars. Programmes existed to vet private recruitment agencies, promote maritime research, assess skills capacity, as well as to provide medical care to overseas Filipino workers. The inter-agency council against trafficking was also well funded and programmes would be developed to reintegrate migrant workers.
All overseas Filipino workers had to undergo information dissemination seminars including pre-departure, post-arrival and information on the programmes offered by the Department and other relevant agencies. A handbook also existed, as was mandated by law. The State party was in the process of consulting on International Labour Organization Convention 181, but some elements had already been integrated into current policy, such as a limit on fees collected from workers and penalties for recruitment violations.
The head of delegation had formerly led a non-governmental organisation and attested that the Philippines had a large democratic space for systematic engagement with civil society. There was a need to enhance training for civil society in collaboration with the private and Government sectors, as labour migration would only continue to evolve, given events such as the Ukraine war and the pandemic.
The Philippines had signed over 40 bilateral agreements and five multilateral agreements. Most concluded bilateral agreements in the Middle East were for the protection of workers and specifically domestic workers. Agreements in the Americas were geared more toward skilled labour. All bilateral agreements were enforced. The State party implemented regular conduct meetings with the State parties of the partner countries. With Saudi Arabia, a working group met weekly to discuss the concerns of migrant workers. The Government intended to include additional areas of cooperation, including emergency plans for migrant workers in times of crisis, reintegration streamlining following the end of a contract and the establishment of aid offices for overseas workers in their host countries.
Regarding the bilateral agreement with the Republic of Korea, the Department of Migrant Workers immediately established an interagency working group to pre-empt and deal with foreseeable problems before any workers were deployed under the seasonal workers’ programme.
The Department of Migrant Workers recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Province of Alberta, Canada to employ nurses. The Alberta Government had committed to helping those who were recruited. The agreement allowed for the registration of previously unregistered nurses in the Province. It was also a pathway to residency and citizenship, and allowed for the reunification of families upon reception of a permanent residency permit.
Measures were undertaken to protect nationals from other countries in the Philippines under the labour code, which ensured equal employment opportunities without discrimination. A 2014 decision by the Supreme Court awarded damages to foreign workers who were unfairly dismissed. There were approximately 9,500 undocumented foreign workers in the country. The Supreme Court upheld that even without an Alien Employment Permit, the rights of a foreign worker to claim the benefits of their contract remained valid.
Recommendations of the Committee on recruitment agencies were considered and policy was strengthened accordingly. A strict licensing system existed and out of 452 licence applicants, only 104 were granted between 2018 and 2022. Licenced recruitment agencies were required to adhere to strict rules and any violation would result in the cancellation of the licence. In 2022, 124 recruitment agencies were suspended and 59 licences had been cancelled for various offences, including excessive collection of fees. Annual and surprise inspections of these agencies were also carried out.
The State party took its responsibilities to Article 68 of the Convention seriously. Information campaigns had been carried out to combat online illegal recruiters in response to their proliferation during the pandemic. The country partnered with Facebook to address online exploitation and was invited to present at the Facebook forum on the subject.
The Government had a three-pillar foreign policy on the protection of the rights and promotion of the welfare of Philippine migrants overseas. This policy was enshrined in the Migrant Workers Act. Each Philippine embassy had consular services such as providing funds for legal aid, including lawyers on retainer and bail bonds to secure temporary release. Periodic reporting took place on all matters related to legal representation of migrant workers abroad.
Republic Act 989 on overseas voting provided overseas Filipino workers with the opportunity to participate in public affairs and vote consistent with the Convention. However, only citizens residing in the Philippines could be voted for. Nevertheless, there were parties that represented the interests of migrant workers.
The 2020 census of population and housing recorded 1.967 million overseas workers considered to be residents in the Philippines. The Philippine statistic authority reported in 2021 1.8 million overseas Filipino workers, and women accounted for 60 per cent of that population. The authority spearheaded the creation of an inter-agency committee that was helping to create a harmonised data collection system without compromising privacy. One example to improve migration statistics was the Overseas Filipino Information Office project, a joint project between several concerned Government agencies.