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Wednesday, March 12, 2014
- As the number of migrant Filipino workers in Russia inches closer to 5000, Moscow and Manila are busy negotiating a bilateral labour agreement that could allow thousands more overseas workers into various sectors of the Russian economy.
Formal discussions are slated to be held on May 30, Grace Cruz-Fabella, consul general of the Philippine embassy in Rome, told IPS.
Nilim Baruah, a regional migration specialist at the International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s regional office for Asia-Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand, told IPS that a comprehensive labour agreement between Russia and the Philippines could be positive, if it established procedures and standards for the recruitment, employment and subsequent return of migrant workers.
“Such an agreement (could) guarantee the labour rights of migrant workers and eliminate or limit recruitment costs. But the main question for Russia will be to what extent, and under what requirements, it will provide Filipino workers with access to its labour market,” he said.
According to the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Russia officially registered 128 new Filipino hires in 2010, including 25 service workers.
These labourers fill various employment gaps, and run the gamut from nannies and gardeners to engineers, accountants, builders and nurses, Yevgenia Konkol, chairperson of the Russian-Philippine Business Council, told IPS.
Natalia Shcharbakova-Hofmann, labour migration officer in the ILO’s Decent Work Technical Support Team and Country Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, told IPS that ‘official’ Filipino workers, those carrying work permits or migration visas, are not present in large numbers; but scores of Filipinos are entering the country on tourist or business visas, assisted by middlemen and local licensed agencies that often act as migrants’ direct employers and channel them straight into Russia’s informal labour market.“I do believe that any initiative that can lead to better employment conditions or simplify the migration process into the Russian Federation must be appreciated,” Shcharbakova-Hofmann said in a nod to the Philippine government, which has been negotiating for better regulations and working conditions for its citizens for the past several years.
In March, the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Albert Del Rosario held an official discussion in Moscow with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, on the possibility of sealing a bilateral labour agreement.
A string of events and conferences over the last year have highlighted a renewed interest in developing the market of overseas Filipino workers, who are believed to be one of many solutions to Russia’s human resource needs. Many experts believe that economic modernisation in Russia depends heavily on skilled foreign labour, limited to certain specific sectors like domestic work, finance, and construction.
Experts have also pointed to the Philippine government’s success in deploying its workforce abroad. Konkol noted that more than 10 percent of the Philippines’ population of 90 million people works abroad, with workers’ remittances accounting for up to 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Some estimates put the total contribution to the Philippine economy by specialists working abroad at 20 billion dollars last year.
Depending on bilateral promises
Viveva Catalig, labour attache at the Philippine Overseas Labour Office in Rome, explained to IPS that the Philippine government has an official policy of deploying Filipino workers only to countries that guarantee protection and promotion of their rights, welfare and interests.
Under a recently enacted law, the Philippine government banned its nationals from seeking employment in states that do not guarantee the rights and welfare of foreign workers, or whose local labour and social legislation does not cover migrant workers.
Since not all countries provide such protections, and because Philippine citizens are often forced to seek greener pastures beyond their borders, or simply follow the desire to gain experience working abroad, the government is making a tremendous effort to forge bilateral labour agreements with potential host countries, Catalig told IPS.
The fact that Russia willingly entered into the negotiations implies not only that it has an urgent need for the services of foreign workers but also that it is fully aware of the benefits of such an agreement.
It is a well-accepted fact that migrants’ labour boosts the socio-economic development of both their home and host country, Catalig stressed, so long as both states establish an accountable and just system of rights and regulations.
Many believe that such a step forward will minimise the problem of illegal recruitment and human trafficking. Others fear that a slip in commitment on either side could make migrant workers vulnerable to the dangers of informal markets.