Filipino workers exploited in global clamor for profits

Filipino workers exploited in global clamor for profits

May. 5, 2007 12:00 AM
Regarding "Resorts tap Filipino laborers" (Republic, Sunday):

Some countries export goods like rice, sugar, and oil. The Philippines exports people. Ten percent of the Philippines' population lives overseas; annually, 800,000 Filipinos toil in 200 nations.

Since 1974, the Philippine government (partnered with private recruitment firms) has officially brokered its people as an "ideal" commodity for global consumption. These labor-exporting practices help the Philippines manage its debts to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, while strategically feeding the voracious labor appetite of economically privileged nations like the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.

The Philippines hails these migrants as "heroes" for the remittances they send home. In 2006, Filipinos sent home some $15 billion, more than 10 percent of the country's gross national product. But such "heroism" comes with a price.

The Philippines faces escalating public discontent about the costs its migrants pay - social costs such as children who rarely see their parents or a steady stream of coffins containing the remains of overseas Filipino workers. A brain drain now sieves critically needed Filipino service providers to overseas jobs: doctors, nurses and teachers.

Globalization is supposed to create opportunities. But for whom? Under what conditions? As practiced today, corporate-led globalization fuels socioeconomic inequalities in pursuit of profit. For example, offshoring production to Mexico's maquiladoras (foreign-owned factories) is not about benevolent corporations providing jobs to Mexicans. Their motive is profit - from the 48-hour workweek, significant tax breaks, and a less-than-living wage.

It is naïve to assume (as the article suggests) that Filipino labor recruitment by Arizona resorts is simply about a labor shortage. Contracted to a single employer, Filipino workers relieve the resort industry of providing full employment benefits, not to mention job security for Filipinos and U.S. workers.

The Philippines and its labor practices are but one cog in the globalized economy. This fuller global picture gets buried from public view, especially amid Arizona's rancorous anti-immigrant fervor.

Rather than blame unauthorized migrants, we must fix an unjust labor system that catches us all in a web of exploitation and inequality.

Put simply, the plight of Filipino resort workers who come to the U.S. on a legal work visa is not so different than that of the typical unauthorized migrant. Filipinos may be here legally, but both are part of a powerful and exploitative system.

- Anne Guevarra,Phoenix

The writer is a sociology professor at Arizona State University's West.

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