Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Prime Minister Harper visits the Philippines

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived in Manila on Friday. He will meet with President Benigno Aquino on Saturday for trade and security talks
Stephen Harper is the first Canadian Prime minister to visit the Philippines in 15 years. He arrived after a six day tour of India. Two-way trade between Canada and the Philippines is just $1.5 billion annually Increasing bilateral trade will be high on the agenda of talks between Harper and the Philippine president.
A special characteristic of the Philippine economy is the revenue received from Filipinos working overseas. The sum last year was more than $20 billion. Filipinos in Canada are a considerable part of those who help their families back in the Philippines.
The Philippines is now the largest source of immigrants to Canada. Tagalog, which along with English is a national language of the Philippines, is the fastest growing language in Canada. Many Filipinos come to Canada to fill low-skilled jobs, often through the temporary foreign worker program. In some cases there have been complaints about abuse by employers. Labour standards are also sometimes said to be ignored. There needs to be more monitoring of the system to assist workers with their rights.
Ethel Tungohan who co-edited a book on Filipinos in Canada said
:"What's missing from the narrative and what's missing from discussions taking place with respect to the relationship between the Philippines and Canada has are clear guidelines and clear parameters for how exactly the labour rights or the human rights of these migrant workers are being protected. That's something a lot of community members would like to hear. Their employers are aware that they really want to stay in Canada and stay working in Canada and they use that as their trump card to ensure that their employees are kept compliant."
A federal online list of abusive employees has not a single person or company name, even though the list was established in 2011. Everything must be excellent!
There are problems on both sides with respect to the caregiver program.. A recent change that requires family to pay up front for the health and transportation costs for incoming caregivers may have contributed to a steep decline in applications for the program from over 20,000 in 2008 to just under 9,000 in 2011. Manuela Hersh of the Association of Nanny Agencies Canada says that many parents do not want to take on this degree of liability when some of the caregivers have no incentive to stay once the family has paid their way here. As Hersh put it:.
"There's still caregivers that are not protected and in bad situations. Then you have the families who complain because now they might be out all this money and have no nanny in place. It's a mess."
I personally know of several Filipinas involved in the program where things have worked out well for the most part.The First Ontario Alliance of Caregivers Canada claims that the Harper government should reduce the processing time for permanent residency status. This move would allow for quicker family reunification.
Chris Thornley, the Canadian ambassador to the Philippines says that Canada is viewed positively as a work destination by the government. Thornley said:
"They're a hard-working people, they don't bring their politics with them, there's no language adjustment issue for them culturally, so I hear this a lot from Filipinos when they go to Canada, how quickly they integrate and what strong citizens they become. So perhaps they're not noticed to the same extent as some of the larger migrant communities that we have in Canada."
However, as Tungohan says, being below the radar often means that Filipinos who need help with labor standards or even having degrees recognized can be a problem:
"Filipinos in Canada are invisible when it comes to policy-making. When it comes to considering the specific needs of the community, Filipinos in Canada are usually lumped in with different types of Asian communities."
Protesters picketed the Canadian Embassy on Friday. Environmental activists were protesting the environmental records of Canadian mining corporations in the Philippines, including a huge spill of 3 to 4 million tons of tailings into the Boac River by a company partly-owned by Placer Dome.

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