Evaluation of LO-Norway Programme of Co-operation with Alliance for Progressive Labor (APL), Philippines among migrants in Hong Kong

Published:December 2010 by Landsorganisasjonen (LO)
Commissioned by:Landsorganisasjonen (LO)
Carried out by:Rainier V. Almazan


The collaboration between The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO-Norway) and Alliance for Progressive Labor in the Philippines started in 2002. The APL-HK project is being implemented since 2006 through the collaborative initiative of APL and LO-Norway with the support of the Asian Migrant Centre (AMC) and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU). The main focus of this project is to strengthen and expand APL’s union organizing campaign among Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong.

LO Norway wanted to evaluate the programme co-operation with APL/Hong Kong, in order to assess the performance and progress, and to see if the results or objectives are being met. The evaluation covered the period 2006-2009. The objective of the evaluation was to assess the results of the support provided to APL and the affiliated unions by LO and assess the modality of cooperation with the APL/Hong Kong and provide recommendations on areas for improvement, in particular related to monitoring and reporting on performance by APL.

The study was conducted using key informant interviews, two focus group discussions with 12 rank-andfile members, site visit and direct observation and use of secondary data from APL reports. The Mission interviewed a total of seven key informants representing the three major stakeholders in the APL-HK project: Two responsible staff from the Asian Migrant Centre, a senior official of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), two APL-HK staff and two senior officials from APL Philippines (Bros. Josua Mata and Edwin Bustillos).

Key finding and results:
APL-HK has been established as an alternative political centre for the promotion and defence of the rights and welfare of Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong relatively independent of its strategic partners principally of the Asian Migrant Centre. APL-HK has established its own operating office and networks within the Filipino migrant community. Within the APL-HK umbrella two of the more viable Filipino trade unions in Hong Kong (FDWU and the ODWU) have been included. In addition the support of three more non-union Filipino migrant associations with a combined membership of 205 has been obtained. In the last General Assembly of the APL-HK, the first set of organic migrant worker-leaders as board of the federation were elected and the interim board of the APL-HK was phased out.

The APL-HK project is as relevant as ever not only for the Philippine labour movement but also for the Philippines and other migrant workers from other Asian countries. Furthermore, the very context in which the project operates demonstrates its timeliness and responsiveness to issues of worker migration especially those involving the Filipino HSWs in Hong Kong. From the perspective of the magnitude of their numbers, their economic contribution and exploited condition it is clear that any organizing or advocacy program implemented in the name of migrant workers is definitely a strategic move in the right direction.

It is necessary to define and enact a realistic dues structure and service fees for specific services such as seminars, legal service, sheltering and the like taking into consideration the APL-HK core expenses. A good dues collection system must be set up. Explore and if feasible, set up an APL-HK Solidarity Fund as an endowment fund to finance some portions of the APL-HK operation in the future.

One of the things that could justify the long term investment in Hong Kong’s Filipino household service worker is their capacity for sustaining their unionization beyond the LO-Norway project support. Currently the APL-HK is levying monthly union dues of around HK$4 per month per member. However, it seems the union levy is too small to even support the monthly average core expense of APL-HK. Unfortunately, in the determination of the appropriate membership dues these core expenses were never considered in the past deliberation on this matter. The dues rate established was quite arbitrary on the part of the membership and leadership of APL-HK.

An APL-HK Solidarity Fund could be a form of a restricted reserve fund whose sources will be the collected membership dues (except the dues payable to APL-Philippines) and service fees. This fund could be invested in safe investment instruments to allow the funds to grow until it becomes a sort of “endowment fund” for APL-HK. The assumption behind the success of this scheme is that the LO-Norway will continue to support the project for few more years and that the dues will be collected diligently through the cell system.

Gender issues:
All the rank-and-file members in APL-HK are women. Each year, more than a million Filipinos leave to work abroad through overseas employment agencies and other programs, including government sponsored ones. Reports show that household service workers are the majority of positions filled by women.

Internal democracy/ Risk analysis:
The lack of common working conditions among Filipino and other foreign household service workers and the fact that they work in isolation from one another, makes it difficult for them to unionize. Therefore, attempts to solve certain problems are usually taken individually, rather than collectively. Second, the long term stability of unions partly relies on long term employment of their members. But because of the transient nature of the foreign domestic workers’ employment, the average residency of a member in a union is only around two years because the laws stipulates that an employment contract is only for two years subject to possible renewal.

A lot of time and resources will have to be invested by unions like APL-HK on continuing recruitment and training of new members and leaders to replace exiting ones on a regular basis but short periods of time. The second impact of fast turn-over of leadership and members is that the process of institutionalization for APL-HK will be difficult because its institutional memory will always be handicapped due to fast turnover of people. The empowerment of an organization is highly correlated to its capacity to institutionalize itself.

The evaluation team recommends on the basis of the 2006-2009 programme

- The strategic objective of project, the specific objectives and the corresponding activities that will support the attainment of these specific objectives must be defined. Relevant indicators need to be developed to measure the attainment of the specific objectives.
- A cell system should be organized within the organisation, which then will serve as its basic unit. The cell shall serve as venue for membership education, collection platform for dues and other membership contribution, organizational communication and mobilization of the members.
- A pool of union educators/cadres should be educated who will lead and manage these cells.A curriculum should be developed.
- APL need to define the strategic thrust of the organization in the field of migrant labour. These should include defining who the strategic partners are of the APL in this enterprise and what their roles and functions are. An organizing strategy needs to be developed.
- There is a need to determine if there is a need for an oversight body like the Project Management Committee in the management of the APL-HK-LO-Norway project. There is also a need to establish better operating policies, systems and procedures for a more effective and efficient operation of the project management committee which would include a more regular and frequent interaction among its member-stakeholders.
- It is necessary to define clearly the division of labour between the two organizers of APL to enhance their complementation and synergy. The major tasks and components of the projects that cannot be handled competently by any of the two APL staff should be sub-contracted.
- The compensation package (both salary and benefits) for the two organizers should be revised, taking into consideration their qualification, experience, and job responsibilities.
- Define and enact a realistic dues structure and service fees for specific services such as seminars, legal service and sheltering.
- Set up a good dues collection system which is integrated into a cell system as the basic unit of APL-HK.
- Explore and if feasible, set up an APL-HK Solidarity Fund to fund the some portions of the APLHK operation in the future.

Comments from the organization, if any:
LO-Norway finds the evaluation useful. It has also been presented to APL for feedback and comments before conclusions. The recommendations from the evaluation have been discussed with APL and will followed up. We will include the recommendation in our future co-operation.

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