To many in the U.S., slavery may seem like a thing of the past. However for a sizable number of immigrant and migrant workers in the country, slavery is alive and well.
Stories of trafficking and working under slave like conditions have become more and more common in the Filipino community. The November 16, 2012 explosion on the Black Elk Energy oil platform off the coast of Louisiana which killed 3 Filipino migrant workers and injured several more brought to light yet another group of workers claiming their employer, Grand Isle Shipyard, and recruiters had trafficked and subjected them to abusive and exploitative conditions akin to slavery.
Details of the alleged abuse were documented in a lawsuit filed by 17 former GIS Filipino migrant workers. There are currently almost 100 former GIS workers who joined the lawsuit.
In addition to being made to work under unsafe conditions, the migrant workers alleged that they were paid approximately $5/ hour for 10-14 hour days with no overtime. They were also deducted $1000- $3000/ month for employer housing that consisted of 4-6 workers sharing a single 10 feet by 10 feet room. Bunkhouse lockdowns, a 10:00 PM curfew, constant surveillance from security cameras, and limited communication with the outside world were also enforced. Workers also endured discriminatory practices from their employer such as restrictions on religious practices and threats of termination and deportation if workers failed to comply with their employer’s strict rules.
“What’s most troubling is that these stories are not isolated. They are stories eerily similar to those told by countless other migrant workers that come here under these guestworker programs,” states Julia Camagong of the International Migrants Alliance – USA.
As a natural response, former GIS Filipino migrant workers formed the group FAST or Filipinos Against Slavery and Trafficking during the weekend of February 23. It coincided with the activities of the “Solidarity and Fact Finding Mission” organized by the Justice for GIS Filipino Workers campaign.
“We saw the need to come together to protect our rights and act. We have not been able to rely on the government and so we must rely on ourselves,” expressed Anne Beryl Corotan of the National Alliance of Filipino Concerns, one of the convening organizations of the weekend activities. “FAST is also unique because it has a base among Filipino Industrial workers, something not commonly seen in the Filipino community,” ends Corotan.
The motto of the newly formed group is “No one left behind.” FAST plans to become a member organization of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, the International Migrants Alliance and the National Guestworker Alliance.
Rodelio Maligo, a former GIS worker and founding member of FAST, said, “My father always told me, in The Bible, ‘Do not be afraid’ was written 365 times. And this is the message I would like to express to all of you. We should not be afraid. To all our workers, to all our co-workers, and everyone else, we should not be afraid, and we should keep on struggling.”