A “welfare regime” refers to different sets of institutional arrangements governing welfare and its stratification effects (London, 2013). Different categories of a country’s population can experience different welfare regimes (Wood & Gough, 2006).
This paper analyses the Filipino welfare regime with regard to female labor migration, which, in terms of its scope and importance for the Filipino economy, is unique. Taking Wood and Gough’s (2006) framework for welfare regimes and the notion that any kind of welfare outcomes are created within the sphere of the welfare mix, the paper explores the interrelation of institutional conditions and different systems of the welfare mix and its implications on the welfare of female migrants and their kinship.
This framework extends the fundamental ideas of the welfare mix to the phenomenon of female migration in the Philippines which allows for the exhibition of failures of the Filipino welfare regime and illustrates how these failures preserve female labor migration, negatively affecting the subjective wellbeing of Filipina migrants and their relatives.
The focus lies on female migrants engaged in domestic work not only due to its rampant extent in the Philippines but also due to the fact that, based on the global gender division of labor, the feminization of caregiving has crucial implications on social welfare regimes and societies’ wellbeing. Domestic work is one of the main sources of labor export and constitutes other major female migration occupational groups such as cooks, caregivers, and nurses, which are often only distinguished in the sending country but are diluted in recipient countries where the task of domestic work includes most of these tasks, independent of the employment status. Nonetheless, to a large extent, the findings of this paper could generally be extended to other Filipino migrants in low-skill occupations as well.
Institutional Conditions and the Role of the Market
To a certain extent, the Filipino welfare regime can be described as a so-called productivist welfare regime, where emerging capitalist market economies are established, driving the commodification of labor and the subordination of social policy to economic policy (Holliday, 2000). However, in contrast to other productivist regimes in East Asia, the Filipino government lacks the institutional capacity to pursue a similar, impressive development agenda that promotes momentous economic and social development.
With the election of Benigno Aquino III, the Philippines returned to so-called democracy in 2010, raising sanguine expectations among local and international communities. However, similar to previous regimes, corruption has remained widespread and feudal provincial elites have blocked basic reforms (Diamond, 2012). Accordingly, the Philippines ranks low in fields such as corruption and rule of law in the World Bank’s Global Governance Indicator database (2014), undermining tax collection, weakening investors’ confidence, and altogether negatively affecting economic development in the Philippines.
Although the Philippines has experienced profound economic development in the past, progress is slowing down. Economic growth in the Philippines in previous years has fallen behind that of its neighbors in Southeast Asia.
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Figure 1: Average annual GDP per capita growth in Southeast Asian countries, 2005-2012 (World Bank, 2014c)
After considerable progress in poverty reduction in the 1990s, poverty was on the rise in the 2000s, and the Philippines fell back in the achievement of several Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) such as universal primary education and maternal health (Briones et al., 2011). Social security reforms in the Philippines are often launched only as a response to economic and social crises or to preserve the status of elites and avoid electoral losses (Ramesh & Asher, 2000). In particular, limited access to social services is low for marginalized households, fostering poverty and inequality and social insurance programs target only the relatively small formal labor force (ADB, 2007; Deyo, 2012, p. 179). Public social expenditures as a share of GDP decreased from 5.5% in 1998 to only 3.6% in 2006 (Briones et al., 2011).
Although unemployment rates in the Philippines have significantly decreased since 1991, total, female, and youth female (15-24) unemployment rates remain one of the highest in the region. Moreover, the ILO (2014) estimated that total, female, and youth female unemployment rates will further increase in upcoming years.
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Figure 2: Total, female, and youth female unemployment rates in the Philippines, 1991-2012 (ILO, 2014)
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Figure 3: Philippines unemployment rates in comparison to countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific in 2012 (ILO, 2014)
On the basis of above illustrated high youth female unemployment rates in the Philippines and Indonesia, it is less surprising that these two countries stand out in terms of female labor migration.
In 2011 and 2012, without including illegally deployed workers, almost one million people left Indonesia (BNP2TKI, 2012). Of these migrants, 76% were women and 90% of them were employed as domestic workers (ILO, 2013a).
Similar to this, almost one million Filipino workers officially migrated overseas in 2010 and 2011 (POEA, 2011). This is tremendous when taking into account that the population in the Philippines is less than half of Indonesia’s. More than 50% were employed as service workers, with the majority working in low-skill employment such as in household service worker, waiter, or caregiver positions (POEA, 2011). Females have been the overwhelming majority of the workers in these sectors. For instance, in 2009, 97.4% of deployed domestic workers were female (POEA, 2009). While initially males dominated, since the 2000s, female-to-male migration became approximately three to four times higher (Battistella & Asis, 2011).
The POEA’s (2011) overview of major occupational categories leaves plenty of room for interpretation, particularly in regard to the absence of one the most controversial aspects of labor export: namely, “entertainers” generally assumed to entail the sex trade (cf. ILO, 2005; Sparrow, 2008). According to data from 2011, out of around 437,000 new hires, 142,000 were engaged as “household service workers,” followed by the other top nine occupational categories, omitting the “entertainment” industry and leaving over 209,000 in the category for others, without further specification (POEA, 2011). It can be assumed that deployment of “entertainers” persists as an important labor export of the Philippines. Moreover, many of the officially categorized labor exports are traps into forced labor and sexual exploitation or deliberate fraud to hide the real deployment sector (see ILO, 2013b). According to Scott (2009), if informal workers were included, the number of overseas workers is far higher than official data suggests.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Hong Kong, and Singapore are the primary destinations of Filipino workers, with the majority being female and employed as domestic workers (Battistella & Asis, 2011; POEA, 2011).
High female unemployment and emigration are not a result of low educational attainments. In fact, the school enrollment for primary, secondary, and tertiary education in the Philippines is higher than it is in other countries in the region (World Bank, 2014c). The literacy rate and primary, secondary, and especially tertiary education enrollment are higher for females than for males (WEF, 2013).