Labour Migration

In their own voices

An ILO-produced film documents the opportunities and obstacles on the path taken by migrant health-care workers from the Philippines.

Feature | Manila, Philippines | 02 March 2015
Ellen Dollaga ©ILO/DWAB APFI
MANILA (ILO News) – The prospect of a better future for her son is what drove Ellen Dollaga to leave her child. The 27-year old single mother moved from the Philippines to work as a nurse in Taiwan, China.

“I left my baby when he was just six months old,” Dollaga recalls. “It’s important for a mum to see and to hear her baby say Mummy, his first word and his first walk. Yet, I sacrificed all this and a lot of happy moments to earn money. There was a time when my son never knew his mother.”

After two years working in a nursing home in Taiwan, China, Dollaga returned to the Philippines. Her foreign work experience and her foreign language skills opened more opportunities, and she was among the first batch of Filipino nurses who qualified to work in Germany, under a bilateral mobility agreement.

Dollaga was happy with the help the arrangement gave her. “Through this bilateral agreement nurses no longer have to pay placement fees. Processing time takes three to four months or less. It saves time, effort and of course money on our part.”

She now works as a nurse in Frankfurt, Germany, and is fulfilling her promise to support her family. “My goal is to get my child to go to Germany after three to five years. If I can petition my parents, then I will take care of them together with my son.”

Family ties

Leonor Fruto ©ILO/DWAB APFI
For Leonor Fruto, an Advanced Practice Nurse in the United States, family was what pulled her back to the Philippines. “My mother lived with me in the US and she has some dementia. I felt like I had to take her back home because I have two other sisters here in the Philippines. Family always pulls you back you know,” Fruto said.

“I’ve lived in the US longer than I lived in the Philippines. I only worked for six months in the Philippines and I had a contract for one year so I feel like I have to pay back many years I really did not fulfil when I was young,” said Fruto. “At the hospital level here in the Philippines, it’s bittersweet. Sweet because I’m back home, trying to help Filipinos and bitter because I know we could do more but we can’t because of the scarce resources in the charity ward.”

Her initial migration, and the return, were a matter of choice. She first went to the USto work in 1975, six months after graduation. She now teaches at the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center (UERMMMC) and helps at the graduate school on advanced practice nursing in the Philippines.

The two women are among the migrant health workers whose stories are captured in a new documentary film created to help skilled health-care workers migrate to Europe (and return) safely and ethically.

Film follows migrants

The film “Tale of a Journey: Migrant Health Workers’ Voice through images” was made by the ILO’s Decent Work across Borders (DWAB) project, funded by the European Union, and produced in partnership with the Asia Pacific Film Institute.

Several nursing schools, including UERMMMC, where Fruto teaches, are interested in using the film to broaden the worldview of students on migration and reintegration.

Consideration is also being given to updating the national nursing curriculum, to include a new elective course on decent work and migration.

The story follows Filipino nurses as they face the challenges of completing their education, dealing with recruiters, complying with government policies, and competing for jobs overseas. The stories also highlight how they juggle family life with fulfilling their dreams, and how they adjust to living in a foreign country and culture.

Not only migrant health workers, but employers, recruitment agents, and government officials from both sending and receiving countries give their views on the migration process -- from pre-immigration preparation to return and re-integration.

Safe migration is all about finding acceptable compromises between the different rights and obligations of migrant workers, employers and governments."

Catherine Vaillancourt-Laflamme, the project’s Chief Technical Advisor

“We believe that migrants are less vulnerable when they are moving out of choice and not out of necessity. However, we have to balance the right of everyone to movement and residence, the right to healthcare and the right to decent work,” said Lawrence Jeff Johnson, Director of the ILO Country Office for the Philippines.

The three-year-long DWAB project was designed to raise awareness about safe, ethical and decent migration, and voluntary return, for health-care professionals and skilled workers from the Philippines, India and Vietnam, going to selected European member states.

The project helped strengthen related services, improving policy dialogue and enhancing the labour market information system. It also supported an online course on entrepreneurship skills training for health professionals, produced country-specific information booklets for potential migrants and helped improve the online job portal of the Department of Health, including projections related to the workforce and human resources.

“The film features valuable experiences shared by former migrant nurses,” said Catherine Vaillancourt-Laflamme, the project’s Chief Technical Advisor.

“We hope it will open more discussions, because [safe migration] is all about finding acceptable compromises between the different rights and obligations of migrant workers, employers and governments,” she adds. Migration should benefit workers and their families, as well as the sending and receiving countries.”