Int’l Migrants Day: Ending Exploitation

Today marks International Migrants Day, first declared in 1990 by the United Nations General Assembly with the introduction of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. 

Last year at this time, we spoke about the Labour Export Policy (LEP) and the proposed deportation of Migrante Canada chairperson Danilo De Leon. Thanks to pressure from migrant rights activists, Danilo has been able to remain in Canada on an open work permit. However, thousands of Filipino Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) still live in fear of deportation in Canada with no status and precarious access to housing, healthcare, and labour protections.

This year, we’re doubling down on our demands for regularisation pathways and status for all, while joining calls for an end to the LEP. In Danilo’s words, were it not for the lack of opportunities in the Philippines, he would not have been forced to come to work in Canada.

Migrante Canada’s Chairperson, Danilo De Leon (photo from CBC News)

A History of Exported Labour

Migrante’s Ottawa chapter describes the roots of Filipino migration:

Thousands of Filipinos leave the Philippines every day to escape poverty and hardship, seeking jobs overseas so their families can survive. Although the Philippines is rich in mineral and natural resources, the majority of its people are poor.

Since Spain colonised the Philippines in the 1500s, an exploitative feudal system has been maintained and upheld by the United States and Filipino governments in turn. The export-oriented hacienda system ensures that the Filipino people remain dependent on imports and actively deprives them of national industry development and sustainable job opportunities. 

Current Day

In 2022, the Philippine Statistics Authority estimated that there were currently 1.96 million Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) working abroad. Remittances, which are financial payments from people working in the diaspora to their communities in the Philippines, accounted for a whopping 8.4% of the Philippines’ GDP in 2022.

Many people are forced to leave their home and take on unsafe work to support their families. In their recent International Human Rights Day statement, Migrante International reported that

The Philippine government does little to ensure that the right to just and favourable conditions of work of OFWs and Filipino migrants […] In fact, it negotiates with foreign governments to ensure the opposite — that OFWs and Filipino migrants will serve as cheap labour in other countries.

The Canadian government relies on this exploited labour to keep its economy and healthcare system afloat but refuses to grant workers the same access to rights and healthcare as its citizens. Many people who come to work in Canada are denied permanent residency and end up undocumented, living in poverty, facing abuse at work, and fearing deportation.

At the beginning of 2023, Migrants Rights Network reported that there had been a 104% increase in the number of deportations since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to regularise all immigrants in 2021. “Canada Border Services Agency receives at least a staggering $46 million CAD per year in public money for deportations – which averages out to $4,750 to deport one person. In contrast, providing settlement and integration services for a permanent resident costs a lot less, approximately $3,900” (MRN, 2023).

Canada-Philippines Solidarity Organization stands with migrants calling for an end to forced migration and the labour export policy. We demand the Canadian government grant #StatusForAll and we pledge to continually resist discrimination, exploitation, and the imperialist powers that push migrants into unsafe conditions!

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