The important and highly relevant topic of overseas Filipino workers’ rights was in focus, as the regional conference on Organizing of Migrant Workers was held at the InterContinental Manila Hotel 8-10 of November.
The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) had come to Manila to host the conference in cooperation with its sister organization Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL). Representatives of labour unions from Southeast Asia and beyond were present at this three-day event.
The conference was kicked off with welcome remarks by Sister Diis Bohn, advisor for Asia, LO-Norway. – I’m very glad to be here in the Philippines that has such a vast experience in migration. Because of the Filipino migrant workers, Norway and the Philippines share close links, said Sister Bohn. She also talked about the importance of migrant workers in a heavily globalized world. Countries in the Middle East such as the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are heavily dependent on these workers as they form up to 70 % of the workforce, so are many other nations in the world.
Carlos S. Cao Jr., the Administrator of Philippine overseas employment agency (POEA), gave an overview of the Philippine labour migration policy and answered questions by enthusiastic participants. Most questions were related to the rights of land based Filipino workers abroad and the difficulty to unionize, whereas this has been easier for the Filipino seafarers.
Major concerns for the Southeast Asian region include trafficking of women, unequal economic development, poverty, and socio economic issues, as explained by Brother William Gois, regional coordinator for the migrant forum in Asia.
-The conditions of work and of life faced by many of the world’s migrants and their families are often unfair and exploitative. This presents the international trade union movement with a major responsibility and challenge, said Sister Bohn.
Counsellor Knut-Are Okstad from the Norwegian Embassy added to Sister Bohn’s remarks, saying “both Norwegian workers – and foreigners working in Norway – benefit from a strong legal protection. However, the legal protection will work only if there are strong means to ensure that the working situation actually complies with the legislation. In this respect – having a strong alliance with labour organisations has proven mutually beneficial”.
Many developed countries are in need of migrant workers, as migrant workers are in need of work. Norway is no exception. We depend on these workers, but we shall not be exploiting them as cheap labour, also referred to as social dumping. Norway has implemented equal pay for equal work, while human rights and equality are highly respected values in the Norwegian society.