Philippines bans labor deployments to 41 countries

Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines, one of the world's largest labor exporters, has ordered a ban on the deployment of workers to 41 countries — including war-torn Afghanistan and booming India — where Filipino officials say there are inadequate protections against labor abuse, the government said Wednesday.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said worker deployments to 125 other countries would continue because Philippine embassies have verified they have laws protecting foreign workers.

A 2009 Philippine law requires that workers only be sent to countries that provide legal protection to foreign laborers, are a party to international labor protection accords or have agreements with Manila that guarantee against abuse.

Nearly 10 percent of the Philippine population of 94 million work abroad, with many going to the Middle East.

Carlos Cao Jr., who heads the government's Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, said the bans will take effect 15 days after the order is published in major newspapers. The countries affected by the bans are not major destinations of Filipino workers, he said.

The few hundred Filipinos working in those countries can remain there until their current contracts expire, Baldoz said.

Multinational companies with high labor standards will be exempted from the ban even if they operate in countries like Afghanistan where the labor ban will be imposed, she said.

Filipino lawmakers who passed the 2009 law "were very much aware of the welfare issues, exploitation and abusive practices in some countries," Baldoz told The Associated Press. She said the Philippines may be the only major labor-exporting country to impose such a ban based on a law.

The bans will be lifted if the affected countries take adequate steps to protect Filipino workers from abuse and allow them to seek help if they are maltreated, Baldoz said.

The countries affected by the bans include Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Cuba, North Korea, Haiti, India, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Serbia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Philippine embassies are now assessing several Middle Eastern countries where bans could be imposed, Baldoz said. More than a million Filipinos work in the Middle East, and complaints of abuses and maltreatment are most frequent there, Baldoz said.

Filipinos who wish to work overseas are required to obtain government approval, although some circumvent the regulation and travel abroad on their own.

"The problem really is forced migration. Jobless Filipinos amid grinding poverty and joblessness will be forced to accept jobs even in countries where there is an existing deployment ban," said John Leonard Monterona of Migrante, a group that seeks protection for overseas Filipino workers.

Labor deployments have been banned, for example, in hotspots such as Lebanon in the past but many Filipinos still have gone there as illegal workers because of human trafficking syndicates, Monterona said.

Overseas Filipino workers are hailed as heroes for the help their earnings bring to the country's economy, but widespread stories of sexual and physical abuse, and even deaths, have made their plights a powerful emotional issue which officials have struggled to address.

In 2004, the government weathered criticism from the United States and other nations when then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered the Philippines' token peacekeeping contingent withdrawn from Iraq after Islamic insurgents threatened to behead a Filipino truck driver who was later freed unharmed.

The government has also struggled to save dozens of convicted Filipinos from execution. More than 100 Filipinos are currently on death row overseas, many in the Middle East, according to Migrante.

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