MIGRANTS SAY NO TO THE GLOBAL FORUM ON MIGRATION AND DEVELOPMENT (GFMD)

As representatives of states meet on October 29-30 for the Second Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), we call on our fellow migrants, migrant advocates and supporters to join the genuine voice of migrants as we say “No to GFMD!”

The GFMD is a device created by First World countries and international financial institutions (IFIs) like the World Bank to corner the remittances, borne by the blood, sweat and tears of migrants, and use it in funding for the “development” of poor countries. It is being used to sell neoliberal anti-poverty financing strategy that relies on the remittances of migrant workers. 

The false notion of “migration for development” that the GFMD peddles further promotes the systematic exploitation of cheap labor. It is meant to capture the remittances of migrants to ensure super profits of bank monopolies and ensure that debt-ridden economies have enough reserves to pay off debts, especially amid the raging financial crisis. The GFMD thrives on the poverty of Third World countries and forces them to institutionalize migration policies. Clearly, the agenda and framework of the GFMD reveals that what is in store is greater commodification of migrant labor, and greater exploitation and miseries of migrant workers.

The GFMD holds more significance this year because it is being hosted by the Arroyo regime in the Philippines. The Arroyo regime is the nightmare ofoverseas Filipino workers (OFWs). No other regime has bled the OFWs dry with enormous exactions from fees to charges to taxes. It has duped OFWs to part with their earnings in collusion with big business, illegal recruiters, traffickers and racketeers, and in utter disregard of the abuses and violations of migrants’ rights. It is currently riding high on the phenomenal increase in dollar remittances even as OFWs continue to reel from the falling value of their dollars.

It is time to expose that the GFMD is a predatory scheme that does not address the root causes of underdevelopment and the massive migration of poor people, much less consider the harsh conditions and legitimate issues of migrant workers. The GFMD does not promote the development of poor countries but pushes them deeper into the quagmire of poverty. 

The GFMD is a sham assembly that talks about migrants but deliberately excludes the migrants themselves. It talks about the protection of migrants but in reality violates our rights. First World countries, IFIs, banks, businesses, and governments of poor countries– which have profited immensely and unscrupulously from our hard labor– are the same institutions that are behind the GFMD. After years of neglect, abuse and exploitation, it is time that the genuine voice of the migrants be heard: No to GFMD! No to labor export policy! No to forced migration! Create jobs at home! End poverty! Defend and advance our rights!

 



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INCREASED BUDGET FOR THE POOR URGED AMID GLOBAL CRISIS

With the worsening crisis of the US and global economy expected to further aggravate poverty in the country, independent think-tank IBON Foundation today said that it has become more crucial for government to ensure enough resources are spent for the poor.

IBON said that the Arroyo administration must start by increasing the allocation for social services in the 2009 national budget. The group criticized the allocation of 2.5% of the total budget for health; 13% for education; and 0.4% for housing as atrociously low especially in today’s environment of rapidly rising prices and greater economic uncertainty.

IBON said that the perennially low budget allocation for social services will have a deeper repercussion on the poor and vulnerable sectors as the deteriorating global economic crisis destroys more jobs and livelihood and inflates the cost of living.

Experts count slowdown in export demand, tighter flows in foreign investments and increased speculation in food and fuel prices as among the consequences of the US financial crisis and overall slump in the world economy.

With increased poverty, it becomes more urgent for government to provide sufficient social services such as health, education and housing. But the proposed budget levels obviously could not cover the expected increased demand for public schools and hospitals among others.

For the past ten years, government has been spending an amount equivalent to 2.1% of the gross domestic product (GDP) for education, way below the international standards of 5% to 6%. For health, it has been spending only 3.2% of the GDP, lower than the norm set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

IBON said that the government should at least meet these levels to alleviate the present condition in the country seen to worsen with the global crisis. To increase spending for social services, government should put a stop to burdensome payments and cut back on military spending. The proposed budget for 2008 allocates P683 billion for debt principal and interest payment, while it allocates P5 billion for AFP modernization. In contrast, government allots only P30 million for health care asssitance.

The group added the removal of regressive taxes such as the reformed value-added tax (RVAT) on oil is equally urgent to lessen the inflationary impact of the financial crisis.

The Arroyo government should also abandon its proposal for new taxes because these will further burden the Filipinos already suffering from low incomes and spiraling cost of living. IBON also urged the administration not to use the global crisis as an excuse to impose more taxes in its effort to achieve a balanced budget.



AS SENATE DELIBERATES ON JPEPA: STUDY SHOWS FOREIGN NURSES, CAREGIVERS FACE EXPLOITATIVE WORK CONDITIONS IN JAPAN

While proponents of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) claim that the pact will create more opportunities for local nurses by allowing them to enter the Japanese market, a study by a Japanese university shows that foreign nurses in Japan face exploitative work conditions and even discrimination. 
  
A study by the University of Kitakyushu in Japan found out that employment programs involving foreign nurses and caregivers have resulted in trainees being forced to work long hours. The Japanese government has also refused to guarantee minimum wage levels, while exorbitant fees of at least 58,000 yen (PhP 23,200) are deducted from the nurses’ salaries every month. 
  
Exploitation of foreign workers on training programs has also been prevalent. Indonesian trainees in Japan , for instance, have reportedly experiencedphysical abuse and been forced to render unpaid overtime, while others have been denied such basic rights as freedom of movement. Meanwhile, non-Japanese in the bigger cities are reportedly subject to racial profiling by being asked to produce their foreign registration cards or passports, which must be carried at all times. 
  
Part of government’s hype is that with the JPEPA, 400 Filipino nurses and 600 caregivers will be allowed to enter Japan for training for over two years. However, the receiving scheme for health workers states that they must work as trainees in designated institutions, undergo six months ofJapanese language training and pass the national certification tests before they can qualify as nurse or caregiver. Although they are already working during this time they will be receiving pay only as a non-licensed worker or trainee or candidate, or as nurse’s aides and caregiver’s assistants. 
  
According to research group IBON, senators debating on the JPEPA should see that the inclusion of nurses in the JPEPA is a deceptive provision that offers uncertain benefits, made only to sweeten the blatantly one-sided, pro-Japan deal. Using Filipino nurses as a justification for approving JPEPA highlights how the Philippine government is willing to sacrifice the welfare of its citizens as well as to cover up for its severe failure in generating jobs and supporting the country’s health system. (end) 
  
The No Deal! Movement for Unequal Economic Agreements in cooperation with the La Sallian Justice and Peace Commission and Benedictines for Peace invite you to the forum ‘JPEPA: Deal or No Deal? The People’s Issues’, 9 am -12 pm, Sept. 12 at the Fajardo Gonzales Auditorium, DLSU Manila. The program includes discussion on the Senate hearings and the presentation of a manifesto on JPEPA.

7 OUT OF 10 FILIPINOS CAN’T BUY ENOUGH FOOD, HAVE TROUBLE PAYING ELECTRICITY BILLS, BASIC COSTS

More Filipinos have trouble buying enough food and paying for basic expenses, according to the latest IBON nationwide survey.

Of the 1,495 respondents, 75.3% said that their family had a problem buying enough food, a substantial increase from 63.2% last January, while 69.7% had trouble paying for electricity and water bills.

The survey also showed that 67.42% of respondents have difficulty paying for transportation costs, compared to 60.6% in January; 73.4% had a problem buying their medicines or paying for their medical treatment; and 68.2% had trouble paying for their children’s tuition.

The April 2008 IBON Survey was conducted from April 7 to 16 across various sectors and regions nationwide with a margin of error of plus or minus three percent (end).

Below is the tabulation of results of respondents’ problems meeting basic expenses.

In the past three (3) months, has your family had a problem meeting the following expenses?

January 2008

April 2008

Frequency

Percentage

Frequency

Percentage

Buying enough food

950

63.21

1,126

75.32

Paying for children’s schooling

997

66.33

1,020

68.23

Paying for transportation

911

60.61

1,008

67.42

Paying for water and/or electricity

1,006

66.93

1,042

69.70

Buying medicines/paying for medical treatment

1,024

68.13

1,097

73.38

ACROSS-THE-BOARD WAGE HIKE URGENT, DOABLE –IBON

A legislated across-the-board wage hike, and not regional wage board hikes or non-wage benefits, should be urgently granted to give Filipino workers immediate relief from rising cost of living. And, contrary to claims of employers, such increase is doable.

The increasing labor productivity of local workers, or the ratio of national output to employment, has been steadily increasing over the past decade. IBON research head Sonny Africa pointed out that between 1999 and 2006, labor productivity has increased by 56.3% in nominal terms and 13.1% in real terms (taking inflation into account). This shows that employers could afford to grant the P125 wage hike, which would necessarily trim their profit margin but will certainly not push them to bankruptcy.

He added that such a wage hike is actually not enough to raise minimum wages to the level of decent living, but would at least provide relief for the workers. The current daily minimum wage in Metro Manila is P365, which would become P490 with the proposed wage hike, or only half of the estimated daily living wage as of March 2008 of P858.

Africa said that the wage hike must be legislated and across-the-board since all workers nationwide are affected by the skyrocketing prices of goods and services. He pointed out the regional wage boards have only served to confuse parallel conditions of workers across regions.

Further, a legislated wage hike would have the strength of law behind it and is more enforceable while allowing for fewer exemptions.

JPEPA HIGHLIGHTS GOV’T INSENSITIVITY TO NURSES

Apologists for the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) continue to claim that the treaty’s ratification will mean more employment and foreign remittances for Filipinos. But according to independent research group IBON, JPEPA highlights the Philippine government’s insensitivity to nurses and caregivers.

IBON research head Sonny Africa says that government is trying to portray that the JPEPA is a clear-cut benefit for a few hundred of the country’s health professionals. “In reality government is using them as fodder to cover up for its severe failure in generating jobs for Filipinos,” he said.

The Japanese government is facing the challenge of dealing with its aging population, and it is now state policy to reduce the costs of nursing and caregiving, said Africa . This situation has resulted in low wages and poor working conditions that even Japanese health professionals find intolerable.

The average annual income of nurses in Japan was just US$40,000 in 2004 compared for instance to US$54,000 in the United States . Caregivers’ annual income in Japan is much lower at US$25,200 for females and US$40,000 for males.

In May 2007, a survey conducted by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry found that 40% of Japanese nursing care license holders have turned down work in the industry because of low wages and poor working conditions. An earlier survey in 2006 found that 70% of Japanese nurses feel that they could quit their jobs at anytime due to chronic fatigue and professional disappointment.

The JPEPA and other similar deals lets Japan hire nurses and caregivers, for instance, from the Philippines and Indonesia , even more cheaply. After 6 months of language training, applicants can already have on-the-job training for up to 3-4 years while they try to pass the relevant national exams. Although they are already working during this time they will be receiving pay only as non-licensed workers or trainees or candidates– or as nurse’s aides and caregiver’s assistants. This goes far to cheapening the cost of Japan ’s health care, but at the clear expense of Filipino and other trained health professionals, said Africa .

“Using the so-called gains for nurses and caregivers to make acceptable a patently unequal deal like the JPEPA only shows an uncaring government that treats its labor force as mere commodities for export,” he said

EIGHT REASONS TO REJECT THE JPEPA

The JPEPA can be best described in three words: unequal, defeatist and destructive.

Recent government propaganda, however, has been trying to depict the JPEPA as an indispensable agreement– even as the country is currently reeling from a food crisis brought about by the same neoliberal framework that JPEPA was designed from.

With this, IBON is again releasing this summary below, which briefly explains why the country stands to lose from JPEPA and why the Philippine Senate should reject this patently unequal deal.

1. The JPEPA is a grossly unequal deal.

Under the JPEPA, Japan protects numerically more sectors of its economy from investment liberalization than does the Philippines and in addition is also very specific in protecting what it deems as vital sectors.

Advanced Japan lists at least 16 sectors to be so protected, many of which even require a minimum of 66% of full nationality. Japan rightly includes such strategic areas as mining, telecommunications, air and water transport, shipping, and banks and financial institutions for small businesses.

Underdeveloped Philippines , on the other hand, lists just five specific sectors: mining, rice and corn, geothermal energy, atomic energy and shipping. The other items are just formulated generically and are meaningless in terms of explicitly supporting and protecting specific sectors of the economy.

2. The JPEPA gives false or marginal gains for the Philippine economy.

There is much hype that Japan will open its doors to Filipino nurses and caregivers under JPEPA provisions on “movement of natural persons”. The pact allows for the entry and temporary stay of persons who engage in supplying services as nurses or certified caregivers for one to three years (which may be extended). There are, however, strict requirements that must be fulfilled as well as regulations to be followed under Japanese law.

Among the prerequisites are that nurses and caregivers should be proficient in both spoken and written Japanese and be qualified under Japanese law. Although these professional and language requirements are not unreasonable, they are limiting as far as deployment of Filipino health workers to Japan are concerned.

In all likelihood very few nurses and caregivers will be able to surmount the considerable language, technical and cultural barriers. Even assuming Japan lifts its quota limits, only a few thousand health workers may hurdle these barriers.

3. JPEPA lays the basis for increased toxic waste from Japan.

Under JPEPA, the country risks becoming a big dump site for Japanese waste materials, not just the recyclable ones but also toxic materials fit for disposal such as clinical and chemical wastes. Once the pact is ratified and implemented, these wastes can be imported tariff-free, from their original tariffs of 3% to 30% set under the Most Favored Nation treatment of the World Trade Organization.

In the face of widespread protests against JPEPA, the two governments have since come up with a side agreement that supposedly addresses these issues. However, this does not detract from how the Philippine government, under the pretext of developing local waste treatment and disposal capacity, did concede to the entry of these wastes by lowering existing tariffs to zero, notwithstanding the provision on “non-relaxation” of environmental protection.

4. “Free trade” does not result in development for backward countries.

On the contrary, historical and current experience show that: 1) industrialized countries like Japan developed on the basis of protection and discriminatory support; and 2) Third World countries like the Philippines that prematurely liberalized have suffered.

Japan certainly has more to gain from so-called free trade with the Philippines . The Japanese economy’s gross domesti c p roduct (GDP) of US$4.4 trillion in 2006 is 50 times larger than that of the Philippines . Japan is also the biggest foreign investor in the Philippines with a cumulative US$3.9 billion as of 2005, constituting over one-fifth of the country’s foreign investment stock. Japan accounted for 17% of the Philippines ‘ total trade in 2005 and is its second largest trading partner, while the Philippines accounted for just 1.4% of Japan ‘s total trade.

Underlying these figures are economies of vastly different industrial, agricultural and service sector strength. The myth of “comparative advantage” and the so-called “level playing field” between such economies is merely a smokescreen for giving the stronger economy free rein to profit from the other.

5. The JPEPA’s liberalization agenda severely limits the Philippines‘ freedom to set economic policy.

Government controls on how foreign investors operate in the country are necessary to ensure that the Philippines gets concrete and substantial benefits from such investments. This means, among others, ensuring control over investors’ operations through equity and ownership requirements or joint ventures. It also means ensuring benefits to the domestic economy through local content requirements and technology transfers.

These linkages between foreign investors and domestic entrepreneurs will not spontaneously arise and have to be consciously built, yet the JPEPA would disallow policies to build these. Investment provisions on “National Treatment” and “Most Favored Nation Treatment” will prevent the Philippines from favoring Filipino entrepreneurs over Japanese investors. There are also explicit “Performance Requirement Prohibitions” which disallow the Philippine government from requiring Japanese investors to achieve a certain level of domestic content, purchase goods and services in its area of operations, among others.

All these are designed to give Japanese investors greater protections, to ensure that they retain their advantages and to enable them to extract the maximum profit from their operations.

6. The JPEPA will worsen Philippine de-industrialization and cause job losses.

The government claims the local exporters would gain through export growth as tariffs are reduced and removed altogether. But the majority of Philippine exports to Japan are industrial manufactures that are actually subcontracted from Japanese transnational corporations (TNCs) and assembled using imported inputs while taking advantage of cheap Filipino labor.

If anything, the JPEPA actually raises the danger that some electronics and auto parts suppliers based in the country, whether TNCs or any genuinely Filipino enterprises, will be affected. Of course, there is no genuinely Filipino electronics or auto industry to speak of. But there are still such suppliers based in the country that import raw materials or components and assemble them either for re-export or as inputs to other electronics or auto assemblers in the country.

Such firms may have to close down if the removal of tariffs on these items makes them cheaper to import than procure from locally based manufacturers. Local steel makers will also be facing steeper production from Japanese producers. The resulting plant closures and layoffs could well mean some tens of thousands of jobs will be lost.

7. The JPEPA will increase landlessness and undermine agricultural livelihoods.

There is also much hype about supposed export gains from a more open Japanese market for Philippine bananas and pineapples. However, food exports are actually a small and even diminishing share of total Philippine exports to Japan, accounting for only 7.4% of total exports to it from 2001-2006. While food exports potentially have high local linkages to the local economy, grassroots farmers and farm workers are unlikely to benefit from JPEPA.

Agriculture in the Philippines , including that of bananas and pineapples, is in general very backward and underdeveloped because of the lack of true land reform and the absence of government support and extension services. Further, foreign agri-business TNCs, such as Dole and Del Monte and their big domestic corporate growers, account for virtually all banana and pineapple exports from the Philippines.

Local farmers are reduced to entering into oppressive contract growing and farm lease arrangements with these TNCs. These arrangements place all the risk of cultivation onto the farmers and force them to buy overpriced inputs. Such arrangements raise the high possibility that small farmers may lose their lands and become workers for hire or join the exodus to the cities.

8. The JPEPA is not about Philippine development.

The JPEPA’s provisions on trade and investment liberalization are designed to give Japan ‘s corporations the greatest benefit to make huge profits, at the expense of the greatest damage to the Philippine economy.

The pact also contains other measures that complement that central thrust. While packaged as being aimed towards developing domesti c p roductive capacity, their real objective is to make it even easier for Japanese firms to trade and invest in the Philippine on terms that are the most beneficial to them.

These include the supposed cooperation in trade and investment promotion, trade facilitation, technical assistance to meet Japanese requirements and regulations, capacity building in paperless trading, training to facilitate improvements in the competitiveness of workers, human resource development and language proficiency training.