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U.S. Virgin Islands lack adequate protections for overseas workers?

November 4th, 2011  |  Pamela Wolf

The government of the Philippines has compiled a list of 41 countries deemed to have inadequate protections for Filipino workers deployed overseas – the U.S. Virgin Islands appears on that list.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times – struggling economies, cheap labor demands, the rise in human trafficking – that the Philippine government has taken steps to prevent its workers from being exploited and abused overseas. Republic Act (RA) 10022 of 2009, which amended the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, which took effect on March 8, 2010, provides that deployment of overseas Filipino workers can only be made to countries with adequate protections in place for those workers:

The State shall allow the deployment of overseas Filipino workers only in countries where the rights of Filipino migrant workers are protected. The government recognizes any of the following as a guarantee on the part of the receiving country for the protection of the rights of overseas Filipino workers:

(a) It has existing labor and social laws protecting the rights of workers, including migrant workers;

(b) It is a signatory to and/or a ratifier of multilateral conventions, declarations or resolutions relating to the protection of workers, including migrant workers; and

(c) It has concluded a bilateral agreement or arrangement with the government on the protection of the rights of overseas Filipino Workers:

Provided, That the receiving country is taking positive, concrete measures to protect the rights of migrant workers in furtherance of any of the guarantees under subparagraphs (a), (b) and (c) hereof.

In the absence of a clear showing that any of the aforementioned guarantees exists in the country of destination of the migrant workers, no permit for deployment shall be issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

On October 28, the POEA issued a list of 41 noncompliant countries. As I pondered the list of countries, which included Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cuba, Iraq, India, Libya, North Korea and Sudan, I wasn’t terribly surprised until I came to No. 39 – the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission exercises jurisdiction in the U.S Virgin Islands through its Miami District Office. Indeed, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to the Virgin Islands.

Earlier this year, the EEOC held a meeting at which a panel from government agencies and public interest groups, and a labor trafficking victim, discussed the problems in identifying, prosecuting and remedying the trafficking of people for the purpose of labor — whether bringing them from abroad under false promises of employment and wages, or from within the United States.

If that’s not enough to show at least an effort to make the U.S. and its territories safe for overseas workers, the U.S. Virgin Islands are also within the reach of the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S Federal Courts. President Barack Obama is the territory’s Chief of State. The minimum wage rates in the islands are the same as the federal minimum wage rates.

Surely, this is enough to show that the U.S. Virgin Islands have “existing labor and social laws protecting the rights of workers, including migrant workers,” such as to meet at least one of the guarantees outlined by the POEA. Can U.S. oversight in these islands be so poor as to render them unsafe for foreign workers?

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