The Philippines commitment to bilateral labour agreements is evident in the number of agreements it has signed, the bureaucratic machinery that exists to facilitate their drafting and their implementation and in its drafting of model Memorandums of Agreement and Understanding in 2018. However, despite ambitious and creditable aims, the Philippines efforts to enshrine rights protection through BLAs has been hampered by its lack of leverage over destination states. The body of BLAs signed by the Philippines are replete with references to ethical recruitment, but the vast majority of these agreements are non-binding MOUs, with weak or non-existent implementation or monitoring mechanisms. There are exceptions to this, but the force and the content of the Philippines BLAs are contingent on the destination state’s respect for labour rights. In practice, BLAs serve largely as a tool to facilitate labour migration, or as a crude form of leverage whereby negotiation focuses on threats to annul agreements and halt deployment rather than constructive negotiations aimed at enhancing the terms of rights protection within agreements. Crucially, there is little to no evidence that BLAs have been effective in improving protection for Filipino migrant workers.
Taiwan’s bilateral labour agreements are deliberately brief and abstract and are aimed at regulating cooperation on migration, not as instruments for negotiating migrant workers’ rights. Taiwan and the Philippines have signed three bilateral agreements, all of which pertain to the Special Hiring Program for Taiwan. Discussions on workers’ rights take place annually within technical working groups, but these discussions bear no relation to the three BLAs, which are high-level and facilitative.
Recommendations to the Philippine government:
- In all future negotiations on bilateral agreements, press destination states to sign binding Memorandums of Agreement that are public, and commit both countries to protect workers’ fundamental human rights and labour rights throughout the duration of their recruitment, employment and return. These agreements should explicitly bind both states to enforce the ‘employer pays’ principle in relation to recruitment fees, and should include oversight and dispute resolution mechanisms that include participation of key stakeholders including worker organisations.
- Ensure that Taiwan signs a binding labour agreement with any country that intends to provide it with foreign workers. Civil society and other key stakeholders from both countries should be involved in the drafting of these agreements, which should be public, and should commit both countries to protect workers’ fundamental human rights and labour rights throughout the duration of their recruitment, employment and return. These agreements should explicitly bind both states to enforce the ‘employer pays’ principle in relation to recruitment fees, and should include oversight and dispute resolution mechanisms.