by ISAGANI DE LA PAZ
QUEZON CITY—FILIPINO workers, mostly women, in Lebanon are still being traded for new employees after getting sidetracked from work when fighting broke out in September, advocates said.
Echoing the report of Catholic congregation Daughters of Charity Sister Amelia Asiedu-Torres, nonprofit Kanlungan Centre Foundation Inc. said migrant workers unable to flee during the shooting war between Israeli and Hizbollah fighters are being sold to other employers.
“The agencies …still make business on them by selling them to another employer at a higher price,” Kanlungan staff Ma. Helen T. Dabu said in a forum here, quoting Sr. Asiedu-Torres of the Beirut, Lebanon-based nonprofit Afro-Asian Migrant Center.
Dabu revealed the results of Kanlungan’s policy research on Filipino women migrants in Lebanon after workers were caught in the middle of fierce fighting there last October, leading to frenzied evacuation of a tenth of an estimated 30,000 Filipinos in that territory.
The research results packaged in an 11-paged Powerpoint presentation was timed as the first topic in a lecture series honoring Kanlungan founder Ma. Virginia Alunan-Melgar. Alunan-Melgar founded the nonprofit group in 1989 when trends bare an increasing number of women going out of the country and the abuses employers heaped on them than male Filipinos’ mostly labor-related cases.
Dabu said they talked by overseas call to Sr. Asiedu-Torres November 28 on the eve of the presentation of the research in Quezon City.
She added the Roman Catholic nun said that the center receive telephone calls from a minimum of seven migrant women a day, expressing a gamut of problems at the hands of their Lebanese employers.
“They have finished their contracts but the employers would not let them go home,” Dabu said of what Sr. Asiedu-Torres told her.
She added that the salaries of Filipino women migrants there –at US$100 (P5,000 in US$1=P50 exchange rates) monthly– are withheld from a period of three months.
“Some employers bluntly tell them that they cannot go home because no one will replace them,” Dabu said.
“Most of these girls [sic] are very timid to discuss matteres with their employers so at one shout of the employers they just withdraw and cry,” Dabu quoted Sr. Asiedu-Torres as saying.
KANLUNGAN’S research bares that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Lebanon comprise seven percent of about half-a-million migrant workers in that country at the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea that has an official work force count of 1.4 million of the total three million population.
“In the last eight years, Lebanon has become a major employment destination of OFWs,” Dabu said citing that last year, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) cited it processed some 14,936 Filipinos going into that country.
Dabu said that despite falling into the 10th rung in the list from the seventh destination of OFWs two years ago, deployment to Lebanon increased by 27 percent last year.
She said the number could go as high as 50,000 OFWs in that country, citing the problem raised by Lebanese Consul to the Philippines Joseph Assad as saying “almost all OFWs bound to Lebanon also bypass the consular office in the Philippines.”
Citing a report by the United Nations Development Programme, Dabu said Lebanese nationals prefer to hire foreign domestic workers because these people work for lower wages.
She added that the Lebanese authorities look the other way in terms of reports of abuse “because cheap foreign labor is one venue to contain inflation”.
Because they have domestic help, Lebanese can then participate in the economy and become more productive, putting downward pressure on commodity prices, Dabu explained in Tagalog.
However, Dabu said that the cost of getting foreign labour is also expensive for Lebanese because of the “kafala” or sponsorship system.
Under this system, the employer is required to pay a one-time US$1,000-bond (1.8 million Lebanese pounds) as “registration of sponsorhip” and an annual US$331 (half a million Lebanese pounds) to the Ministry of Labour for work permit.
According to Dabu, the employer also pays US$331 to General Security every year for the foreign worker’s residency permit.
To note, Dabu said, the sponsorship fee paid to the Central Housing Loan Bank could be refunded after termination of the employment contract that binds the foreign worker to his/her employer for two years.
KANLUNGAN said its research revealed the abuses committed against OFWs by Lebanese employers are not only due to monetary reasons or “cultural differences” as Philippine foreign affairs officials told them.
“The condition and processes of migrant employment in Lebanon originated from a long history of non-regulation by the State,” Dabu said adding that “discrimination against women and migrants” as extenuating factors.
“This abeted [sic] the non-accountability of private proponents in the trade of migrant domestic work service,” Dabu added.
She said policy changes to stop abuses were not instituted and “the practice of withholding the passports of FDWs and restricting their movements, which have been considered ‘natural,’ was not banned as violative of human rights.”
Dabu cited her interview with Sr. Asiedu-Torres who purportedly said that “Up to the present time, there are no laws to protect the foreign migrant workers so they are always on the losing side even if their cause is reasonable.”
Yet, Dabu cited several Lebanese initiatives to protect migrant workers, including amendments to the Code of Obligations and the kafala. Likewise, Dabu said Lebanese officials built a computerized databank recording “entries of all migrant workers with the names of their employers”.
But Dabu said these policy changes, as well as international conventions to protect foreign workers signed by Lebanon, are not applied.
“The more fundamental problem appears to be the lack of political will to deal fairly and equally with migrants and women,” Dabu said.
She cited the irony that the Lebanese economy, like the Philippines, also relies on its 15 million migrants living in Brazil (seven million) and the United States (three million).
Kanlungan forwarded ten recommendations to the Lebanese government, five to the Philippine government, and three to migrants’ rights advocates to address the issues concerning Filipino migrant workers in Lebanon.
The group is urging Lebanes and Philippine officials to enact a bilateral labor agreement, among other action points, that would ensure protection of OFWs in the receiving country.
Kanlungan said it is eyeing a network of advocates to push these officials to the bargaining table.
OFW Journalism Consortium