Thursday, October 27, 2016
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Overseas Workers in Japan: Promises and Risks Symposium by Verite


Verité, an independent global non-profit organization monitoring international labor rights, has been a staunch defender and promoter of labor rights. The are concerned with issues like child labor, slavery, employment and workplace discrimination, unfair and dangerous working conditions, and insufficient compensation or unpaid work.

Last September 12, held a symposium on the recruitment process and working conditions of migrant Filipino workers in Japan themed: “Overseas Workers in Japan: Promises and Risks.” It was held at the GT Toyota Building, Asian Studies Center in UP Diliman. For this particular event, Verité wishes to shine a brighter light on the problems that OFWs encounter, specifically in Japan where many of our fellow Filipinos go to find work and experience their culture.

The same symposium was also be held at the Kawasaki Hotel Nikko in Tokyo on September 28, 2016 for the OFW community, labor rights advocates, policymakers, and ethical employment practitioners in Japan.

The symposium featured a viewing of the short documentary titled ”Ijū-sha: Reportage on Filipino Workers in Japan,” written and directed by Harris Guevarra, that features overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their stories of the hardships and opportunities they encountered abroad.

Speeches and remarks from known authorities and labor rights advocates followed thereafter.  Vice President Leni Robredo shared her views on migration via recorded video.
A discussion of our OFWs’ respective situations and ways how to help the OFWs through the Philippines’ and Japan’s labor laws.

Verité and representatives from the government and NGOs led the discussion and lay down frameworks for improved systems. Guests had a chance to build networks and further discuss the topic.

The event is expected to be a milestone in the long battle to secure the rights of our fellow Filipinos working abroad and ensure that they are earning the due benefits they are working for.

Key stakeholders and partners from the government, private sector, civil society, and academe attended the event where they discussed ways to minimize risks and maximize benefits for our migrant workers.


The documentary Ijū-sha looks into the lives of our migrant Filipino workers in Japan through stories from returned worker, a jobseeker, and a currently employed OFW in Japan. The stories of Filipino migrant workers in Japan are told primarily by three women: Rose, Cecile, and Sugar.

Their personalities and lives differ from each other, but their stories of life as workers and their aspirations and motivations for working abroad echo the same struggle for livelihood, challenges brought about by foreign culture and laws, and desire for a better future. Each storyteller shares her hardships, those of which we’ve come to associate with working abroad. But these sacrifices also come with hard-earned successes, unbridled happiness, and euphoric reunions.

The documentary begins with the women sharing their reasons for wanting to work in Japan. Some of them want to experience snow, while some of them want to work with the Japanese because they know them to be kind and respectful people. Cecile cites the most common, yet most important reason: “Nung 18 po ako, kaya ko naisipan mag-Japan, dahil sa hirap ng buhay sa Pilipinas.” (When I was 18, I thought of going to Japan because life in the Philippines is really hard.) These women, like most OFWs, found Japan attractive because of the opportunities it presented.

Cecile, who worked as an entertainer, recounts how she was always amazed at her friend who worked in Japan and always brought back to the Philippines many goods and expensive jewelry. It was this friend who suggested that Cecile apply as a performer in Japan. “Pagdating ko doon, excited akong maging singer, kinakanta ko si Whitney Houston!” (When I got there, I was so excited to become a singer—I kept singing Whitney Houston songs!) Cecile shared her excitement then. But this excitement is soon replaced by disappointment and apprehension when she realizes that the job and place was not what she expected. The contracts, which should have been theirs to read, were only read by their managers.

The documentary investigates the exploitation of migrant workers and the unfair treatments and abusive employment they endure. The documentary also features key persons in the government and NGOs involved in the promotion of labor rights and OFW welfare, as well as authorities in Japan: Danilo Navarro, President of the Association of Philippine Licensed Agencies for Technical Internship Program, Inc. (APLATIP); Rose Otero-Yamanaka, Director of Batis Center for Women; Maria Luz Tolentino, Labor Attaché of the Philippine Embassy in Japan; Takeshi Yumoto, CSR Supply Chain General Manager of Teijin; Ellene Sana, Executive Director of the Center for Migrant Advocacy; Virgie Ishihara, Director of the Filipino Migrant Center in Nagoya, Japan; Marie Apostol, Director of FAIR Hiring Initiative and Founder of Verité Southeast Asia; and Takashi Ueno, entrepreneur and greenhorn in the recruitment business.

These social workers and government personnel illustrate the recruitment and migration process and share the loopholes being exploited by agencies and brokers. They also provide solutions and certain actions we can take to help protect our migrant workers from exploitation, such as policy advocacy and crisis intervention. Marie Apostol cites their projects “to demonstrate ethical recruitment standards based on the Verité Manpower Ethical Framework for cross-border recruitment.” All in all, they stress the important role of legislative bodies, lobbyists, policy watchers, and labor authorities in ensuring that our OFWs enjoy fair hiring processes, and safe and clear-cut employment.

The documentary closes with a reminder of why Filipinos seek jobs abroad. There are opportunities in migration and finding work overseas. Writer and Director Harris Guevarra, who followed and interviewed migrants in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka for the documentary, said, “Ijū-sha is a candid glimpse into the lives of our OFWs in Japan—a trunk line for our fellow Filipinos whose stories disappear into language barriers and the vast ocean separating them from home.”

The symposium was not just an avenue for raising awareness and inspiring action, but also for labor rights advocates to network and build partnerships with like-minded individuals and organizations.

Through this event, Verité hopes that both Philippine and Japanese governments, along with other NGOs, recruitment agencies, and labor rights advocates, will begin to work together for the benefit of our OFWs today and in the future, as well as their families in the home country.


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