Advocating for Canada’s Kababayan
By Jon Malek
The recent and tragic news of the car accident in Alberta that left three Filipino temporary foreign workers (TFWs) dead saddened my family and me. Such news, especially during the holiday season, always weighs heavily on the heart, and our thoughts and prayers go out to their family and friends. This event gives cause to pause and reflect upon the thousands of temporary foreign workers who work in Canada, many of whom are Filipino.
TFW is a term particular to Canada; abroad, these workers are commonly referred to as Overseas Filipino Workers, or OFWs. Although they give their time and effort to our country, paying taxes from which they are ineligible to benefit, the treatment they receive in Canada is often worse than we know, and much worse than one should expect in Canada. A recent statement from Migrante Canada reminds Canadians that, despite being one of the top destinations for OFWs, “It is also one of the countries with the worst track record in labour and immigration policies.” To this day, Canada has yet to sign the UN convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, which was adopted in December 1990. You can read the convention, and witness absence of Canada’s participation, online at http://goo.gl/sxqVQt.
Migrante International is a global organization working towards improving the living standards of all OFWs worldwide, and is working towards changing the labour export situation currently operating in the Philippines. This past August, I had the opportunity to sit down with Diwa Marcelino, program coordinator of Manitoba’s regional chapter of Migrante Manitoba. In this and the next issue of my column, I will be discussing my conversation with Mr. Marcelino and talking about Migrante Manitoba, it’s mission, the global network of which it is a part, and the important, but often overlooked, segment of the Manitoba Filipino community – its temporary Filipino workers.
The following is an edited script from our interview.
Jon: Can you explain to me what Migrante Manitoba is?
Diwa: Migrante Manitoba is an organization that is comprised of volunteers working towards getting migrant workers – mostly those in the temporary worker program and the live-in caregiver program – and also immigrants in general or any type of migrants, not necessarily just Filipinos, their rights and welfare respected. We advocate for their full rights and welfare so that they can have the same rights as Canadian workers. For instance, they should have the same protections and social safety nets, like employment insurance and worker’s compensation. They should enjoy all the health and safety benefits that regular Canadians and permanent residents enjoy. Unfortunately, they do not. So, there’s a gap that exists; there are conditions of exploitation and problems that migrant workers face. We’re trying to help migrant workers because of this.
Jon: How long has Migrante Manitoba been working?
Diwa: Migrante Manitoba is fairly new. It kicked off in 2007 or 2008, I believe. Before that, the organization was under the name Damayan, which we still operate under. Our organization is registered with the Companies Office of Manitoba under Damayan Manitoba. Damayan is an incorporated, registered non-profit organization that joined the Migrante Canada alliance, an umbrella organization that brings together other organizations with similar interests in rights and welfare across Canada – Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa, for example. Migrante Manitoba is more commonly used now as a trade name or alternate name since we joined the Migrante Canada alliance. They joined together around 2006 to create Migrante Canada. So they joined all the disparate migrant worker advocacy groups and they joined under one banner, so we’re a little bit stronger now. We each have our conferences every year, and meetings twice or thrice a year. So it’s fairly new on the scene. But there has been a history of organizations working to the same effect.
Jon: And Migrante Manitoba is part of Migrante Canada – which is part of a larger, global network as well?
Diwa: It is part of Migrante International, which has several country chapters all across the globe, in most places where Filipinos work – which is almost every major city. [Diwa later added that “each of these regional chapters usually have numerous organizations under each regional chapter.” – JM]
Jon: How many people make up the core group of Migrante Manitoba?
Diwa: We have about 20 volunteers. There is a strong support base, people who come in to help. But our core is probably fewer than 10 people who are constantly working and who can have cases of migrant workers’ abuse or other similar concerns referred to them. But I would say we have a good 20 people, but this number expands and contracts depending on the type of activity.
Jon: You’ve discussed what Migrante Manitoba is; can you speak more to its core mandate?
Diwa: Migrante works to promote the rights and welfare of migrant workers. Our end goal is to live in a society where families do not need to break up in order to survive. Basically, we want peace. Migration is a horrific event. Even in the best of cases, people move – they get displaced, they lose their culture a little bit, they move to a different culture, they break away from family and especially when you deal within the structure of a nuclear family, when a husband has to leave his wife, or a mother has to leave her kids. It’s a traumatic experience and it affects the community. We’ve seen that already; it affects the community at home, in the Philippines, and sometimes not for the better. Many times, not for the better, but it is necessary because of survival.
So we want to try to find ways where the Philippines can address the root problems that cause migration: high unemployment, the lack of basic industries in the Philippines causes migration. We want to make sure that there are reforms to the government so that they institute pro-Philippines, pro-people laws and regulations that help Filipinos find work at home instead of having to work abroad. We believe in a holistic approach that is grounded both in Manitoba, and Canada, as well as the Philippines. We base a lot of our advocacy on that premise. We want to make sure that Filipinos themselves are aware of why they are here, not individually – you don’t come here for individual reasons only, but because of macro-events, macro-legislation that affect the whole nation, and that is what we are trying to fix. We support our political party, the Migrante sectoral party in the Philippines, which ran for Congress. They are asking for these reforms that try to promote ideas such as national industrialization, jobs on the home front, in the Philippines, and basically human rights and welfare for our overseas workers.
This is just a brief introduction to Migrante Manitoba. Next month, we will talk more about how Migrante Manitoba performs its mandate, how it helps workers, and how others can become involved with the organization. The issue of TFWs, and Canada’s ever-shifting policy towards them, is a serious issue; people like Diwa and those who help make Migrante Manitoba – and all other similar advocacy groups – perform a vital role in Canada’s participatory democracy, standing up for those who work and contribute to Canada but are often left voiceless.
I would like to thank Frances Claudio for her skilful transcription of this interview, and for Diwa Marcelino for taking time from his schedule to speak to me, and the Pilipino Express, about Migrante Manitoba.
Jon Malek is a PhD candidate in History at Western University, and is a member of the Migration and Ethnic Relations program. Jon’s research endeavours to document the history of the Winnipeg Filipino community through archival research and interviews. Jon is happy to hear from community members interested in sharing their experiences of life in Winnipeg. He can be contacted at email@example.com and information on the project can be found at www.pearloftheprairies.ca.