Friday, November 2, 2007

Resurrecting State Protection: Migrant Workers Abroad

In the age of human rights, the conventional wisdom is that we should be skeptical of the role of states in protecting the rights of their citizens abroad. Our cherished human rights treaties focus on individually-enforceable rights, fearing that states will be ineffective at rights protection, especially when it comes to migrants. However, an interesting example from the Philippines illustrates the promise of state involvement in protection of migrant workers abroad. Dovelyn Rannveig Agunias of the Migration Policy Institute reports here on the creative steps that the Philippines is taking to protect its migrant workers. As of 12/06, almost 25% of the Filipino labor force and 9% of the total population worked abroad, the majority as temporary workers. Remittances from Filipino workers abroad are likely to approach US$15 billion this year. As far back as 1982, the government created the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which regulates the recruitment of Filipino workers and warns them about private agencies that have cheated workers in the past. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) protects Filipinos while abroad, including providing immediate repatriation of distressed and physically ill workers, life and disability insurance, loans, and scholarships and training. Another agency provides legal services to Filipino workers abroad. These agencies, empowered by outrage on the part of domestic political constituencies at the treatment of Filipinos abroad (ranging from unfair trials to "mysterious" deaths), are funded in part through contributions from foreign employers and workers abroad. While the programs are not yet perfected, they seem to be more effective than, say, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers, which has yet to be ratified by any developed nation. For developing countries with a high percentage of workers abroad, this model presents an innovative avenue to protect migrant workers.

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