Prospects for Filipinos in Canada under the SPP - North American Security and Prosperity Partnership
Joey Calugay - Centre for Philippine Concerns
August 13, 2007
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
It was August 2000 when my wife, Jasmin, woke up to a phone call. I can hear a woman’s frantic voice over the phone and immediately recognized, Melca Salvador. Jasmin was the chairperson of PINAY at the time and Melca was the vice-chairperson, both were leaders of the Filipino women’s organization based here in Quebec. It was time for them to mobilize the rest of PINAY and friends. Melca had received a deportation order and was to go into hiding.
Slave worker under Canada’s Live-in Caregivers Program (LCP) and victim of Philippines Labour Export Policy (LEP)
Melca had narrowly escaped capture and detention by officials as a non-status migrant worker in Egypt through the help of a former employer who got her into the LCP in Canada. Two months after starting her job in Montreal she found out that she was pregnant and was immediately fired by her Canadian employer.
4 years later, in early 2000, she had received her "voluntary" deportation order because she was not able to fulfill the strict requirements of 2 years live-in work within 3 years time under the LCP. She was faced with complying with this order and having to drag her 3 year old Canadian-born son Richard with her to an uncertain future. They were to go back to the country that pushed her out along with millions of Filipinos to find work abroad and to send money back called remittances.
The annual remittances of overseas Filipino migrant workers amounted to $12.8 bn US in 2006 according to the Philippine Central Bank. It ranks fifth in the world for remittances according to the World Bank, just behind India, China, Mexico, and France. The forecast for 2007 is that Filipinos will remit up to $14.1bn by the end of the year. This global trade in people is the highest income generating business of the Philippine government, keeping its economy afloat and helping to pay for the more than $55bn in foreign debt.
Just this past July Philippine President, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, in her state of the nation address predicted that the Philippines can prosper and attain First World status in 20 years if it continues implementing neo-liberal policies prescribed to her by her imperialist masters. She also proposes to make Philippines secure for foreign investors by getting rid of the people’s movement calling for her ouster through her own brand of the "war on terror". Of course the more than 5000 Filipinos who leave the country each day and the millions more who can't leave and face unemployment, landlessness or a 2 dollar a day pay check would argue that she was insane.
But even with insurmountable odds against the people, there are small victories. With the collective efforts of PINAY, the Filipino women’s organization Melca helped lead, their persistence in gathering thousands of signatures for a petition, of leading weekly rallies in front of the immigration office, of the media blitzes, press conferences, piles of statements, speeches, speaking tours, public forums, and more, Melca’s case helped expose the LCP as part and parcel of the imperialist globalization of labour.
Also, with the pivotal roles played by the Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC), the Centre for Philippine Concerns (CPC) and countless other organizations across Canada in garnering support from other communities and the general public to stay the deportation of Melca and her son Richard, the one year long campaign resulted in a victory. Melca and Richard were granted status in Canada. The deportation order was lifted.
The damage was done
The long arduous fight took its toll on Melca and Richard. The months of hiding, traveling from one place to another, long nights of meetings and assessments, the insecurity of not knowing their future, the challenges of Richard to get medical care for his asthma, to go to daycare and to play... the anxiety this caused them is imprinted in their minds and has caused trauma and exhaustion.
Richard has faced challenges in school and sometimes wakes up at night screaming. Melca cannot care for him properly as she again faces another major challenge. Melca is diagnosed with cancer and is now struggling to beat this too. Today Richard has become a part of our family and has moved into our home as Melca now fights for her life.
Still an uncertain future for the children of Filipinos living abroad
Russell, my son, was with his mother when she was up on those stages making speeches during the year long campaign to stay the deportation of Melca. As PINAY’s chairperson at the time Jasmin would lead her organization to find justice for one of their leaders, Melca Salvador. She was making a speech during a public forum just a day before she went into labour. Our son was born just in time to celebrate Melca Salvador’s victory party.
Russell is now 6 and innocent as he is, loves the fact that Melca's son, Richard, now lives with us. As Russell plays with Richard in our home, we often wonder and worry about the prosperity and security of their futures. I know when they are older they will have to face the realities of an inaccessible education while tuition fees and education costs rise under the policies of deregulation, privatization and trade liberalization. These neo-liberal policies will only continue to expand and become entrenched under more of the same trade and border security agreements between imperialist nations with their neo-colonies in tow.
Countless other Filipino migrants face insecurity and will not prosper
As Melca battles cancer she is helped and cared for by another domestic worker, Miriam. Miriam is a member of PINAY, who had to quit her job a few years ago when she found out that the basement room her employer provided her was causing her to get hives from an allergic reaction to some exposed building materials.
She complained and tried to get compensated for lost wages due to her illness through CSST – the Quebec workman’s compensation. She found out that domestic work is not considered part of the labour standards that is covered by CSST in Quebec. She along with the IWC and PINAY is fighting for the inclusion of domestic workers to be covered under the CSST. Still we are told that deregulation of labour standards is the path to prosperity for us all.
Several other domestic workers who approached either PINAY or the IWC filed cases with the Quebec labour board against their employers for unpaid wages, long hours of work, verbal and physical abuse, sexual harassments and a whole slew of other disturbing work conditions that they face outside of the public eye as they work isolated in their employer’s homes.
To make matters worse, Canada, as part of extending its temporary workers program is making deals with the Philippines to contract hundreds of Filipino migrant labourers to work in the oil sands of Alberta. Unlike the precarious, temporary status of live-in domestics under the LCP, the oil sands workers will not have a chance to apply for immigrant status in Canada. The carrot has been removed and the stick enlarged. Money to send home would be the only reason to accept whatever work conditions they will face in the isolation of the wastelands of Alberta. The prosperity and security of Canada and the US depends on this new source of oil but I now wonder about the prosperity and security of the workers who make the profit for these imperialist nations.
Some dare to struggle
The brave souls who decide to take a stand and fight with their community organizations and their support systems can now and are now put under unwarranted surveillance, put on watch lists, detained, degraded and deported. I watch in awe at some of these Filipino domestic workers with practically no status bravely take a stand even in the face of being branded “troublemakers” or worse and often threatened with deportation.
Take the case of the current vice-chairperson of PINAY, Delia. Soon her three years under the LCP will be up and Canadian immigration will find that she may be lacking some months of the 24 months of live-in work required under the LCP. This, because she decided that she would have no part of her employer’s constant and daily verbal abuse. She quit that job and it took her more than 6 months to find work and transfer her work visa to a new employer accounting for the shortfall in required time of live-in work.
Delia faces this hanging threat of deportation along with the fact that her organization, PINAY, as a member of the Migrante alliance of Filipino organizations overseas has been put on the Philippine military’s list of people’s organizations branded as “communist” fronts and thus a target for “neutralization” under their Operation Plan "Bantay Laya" or "Operation Guard Freedom". But even with these threats I still saw her out there with her organization when the Centre for Philippine Concerns and allied organizations called for mobilizations in front of the Philippine and US consulates to denounce the more than 850 political killings of activists in the Philippines. She was there again just this past July when we organized a demonstration denouncing the newly implemented Human Security Act or the Philippine anti-terror law that will try to justify these political killings under a cloud of impunity.
The struggle continues - to Montebello we go!
US president Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Harper and Mexican president Calderon are meeting in Montebello, Quebec this August to discuss the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) for North America. The SPP will build on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed in 1994. The SPP will ensure the security of imperialist borders and control the in and out flow of migrant labour while also ensuring the prosperity of monopoly capitalism through more of the same neo-liberal policies under imperialist globalization. For the working poor of this region it will only guarantee their insecurity and poverty for years to come.
Delia will most probably be out in Montebello protesting if she is able to take a day off from her current LCP employment and not be threatened with firing. Yes, I believe she would be out there with PINAY, the Centre for Philippine Concerns and other progressive Filipino organizations in Canada holding their banners and shouting, “Down with imperialism! Down with the SPP!”
*This speech was presented during a panel discussion on the SPP at the Community Dinner and Forum organized by the Immigrant Workers Centre, No One Is Illegal and Tadamon (Lebanese Solidarity Group). Joey Calugay is a researcher for the Centre for Philippine Concerns in Quebec and a strong supporter of the Immigrant Workers Centre.