Socialist Worker

Eight million Filipinos are forced to work abroad

Issue No. 2003

The crisis in the Philippines has fuelled pressure to make its workers go abroad to find a better life. Nearly 10 percent of Filipinos—eight million people—are now working abroad.

In the early 1970s the first wave of migrant workers were construction workers who fed the building boom of the oil-rich Middle East kingdoms, joined by seafarers manning the world’s merchant marine fleet.

Domestic workers soon followed to run the homes of the wealthy in newly industrialising East Asia, the Middle East (especially Saudi Arabia) and western Europe.

Since 2004 the new growth areas have been service-related sectors – hospitals, nursing homes for the elderly, or hotel or tourism-related jobs.

Filipino workers are found in 120 countries. It is second only to Mexico in terms of its exporting of labour.

Some 30 percent of the country’s 100,000 registered doctors have migrated to North America.

There are around 100,000 Filpino workers in Britain, many in health care. Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge employs 513 Filipino nurses and there are around 3,000 in the rest of Cambridgeshire.

A case earlier this year highlighted how a number of these workers, brought over to plug gaps in the British workforce, are treated.

Ruth Velando and Frances Plandes are both highly experienced nurses who were recruited in the Philippines to work at a care home in the north east of England. They arrived in September 2003 and were immediately forced to sign tenancy agreements to live in a flat within the home.

A percentage of their wages was deducted at source to pay for their rent, which was much higher than comparable rents in the Gateshead area. Both Ruth and Frances were told that if they didn’t sign their tenancy agreements they would be put on the first plane back to Manila.

They felt they had no option but to sign. While working at the home they were given unsocial shifts and were paid £2 per hour less than their English colleagues. They were also prevented from taking more than two weeks leave to enable them to return home.

As a result of these living conditions, pay problems and their shifts, both resigned in June 2004. Frances likened their predicament to the modern slave trade in his witness statement.

Fortunately both found new jobs relatively quickly, but not before their previous employers deducted £1,001 from their final salaries, allegedly to recover the cost of their air fare from the Philippines.

The Unison union’s solicitors pursued a series of claims for racial discrimination and unlawful deduction of wages.

All claims were successful, with awards in the region of £10,000 each – although it has proved hard to recoup the entire amount due to the fact that the employers placed themselves into liquidation.

Filipinos also work in areas such as the Royal Mail, transport, hotels and catering.

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