Justice Without Borders Advances to Philippines, Holds ILO-sponsored Workshop on Cross-Border Access to Justice

March 21, 2018

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Justice Without Borders (JWB) continued its expansion across ASEAN with its first workshop in the Philippines. The event, “Building Capacity for Migrant Workers’ Access to Just Compensation, Post-Return”, brought together local members of international labour union SENTRO for a 3-day event from 28 February to 2 March 2018 that focused on access to compensation in both the Philippines and Hong Kong.

Convened by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the event gave SENTRO members key tools in providing paralegal services to returning workers who may have claims both in the Philippines and back in Hong Kong. JWB organised additional legal expertise for the event, bringing in our partners at Herbert Smith Freehills LLP (HSF) as well as leaders of the Bulacan-based International Pro Bono Alliance to introduce legal and logistical issues behind the most common claims that workers may have both abroad and at home.

SENTRO brings case experience that is the reverse of most migrant worker support organisations in the Philippines: workshop participants together had decades of experience assisting Filipino workers residing in Hong Kong and elsewhere, but had yet to be introduced to civil claims for those who had returned home to the Philippines.

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The 3-day workshop was characterised by lively discussions that built on participants’ existing skills. Ms Bernice Coronacion, a senior leader at SENTRO, spoke in favor of JWB’s teaching pedagogy.

“The workshop is very useful, interactive, and participative. We can contribute and share our concerns, and we feel very involved. This two-way process is very helpful,” she said.

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SETTING THE GROUNDWORK FOR CIVIL LITIGATION

The workshop began with introductory sessions on Philippines law by ILO partners. JWB staff then covered the fundamentals of casework, claim identification, evidence collection and case management before turning to Hong Kong law.

JWB’s Indonesia Head of Office, Ms Sri Aryani, discussed good practices in casework, sharing her extensive experience in Indonesia. She facilitated participant sharing of their substantial casework experience, and how their existing skills could be turned to pursuing claims from abroad.

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Caseworkers then broke into groups to identify legal issues and discuss evidence collection, using a hypothetical case. Lawyers from HSF provided a helpful summary of the issues and steps to consider from a legal perspective in Hong Kong.

JWB’s Hong Kong Legal Officer, Ms Justine Lam, then discussed common issues faced by migrant workers in Hong Kong, including overcharging, illegal deployment, abuse and unlawful dismissal.

Turning to advanced case management procedures, participants proceeded to work in groups to hone their case management skills and identify information gaps that commonly exist during initial intake.

Participants then closed out the training by diving into the mechanics of cross-border claims. Speakers discussed the different paths to bringing cross-border claims in Hong Kong, as well as the procedural hurdles. Rounding off the session was a briefing on how to refer cases to JWB.

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THE WORK BEGINS WHEN THE WORKSHOP ENDS: NEXT STEPS TO JUST COMPENSATION FOR RETURNEES 

This introductory workshop marked the beginning of the caseworkers’ efforts to build capacity in pursuing cross-border civil claims for migrant workers. SENTRO will now be developing a concrete action plan to put their new skills into practice and begin intake on test cases. JWB looks forward to working with our new partners and the ILO in ensuring these initial cases have the strongest chance to succeed.

With over 190,000 workers from the Philippines making up nearly half the migrant domestic worker population in Hong Kong, and a similar number in Singapore, JWB looks forward to expanding its services to the Philippines, and providing additional lifelines to legal aid for those who return home with outstanding claims.

Equally exciting, the Philippines boasts a civil society with an advanced capacity to provide services, making the country a promising location to further develop cross-border civil litigation for migrant workers.

“Caseworkers’ extensive existing experience in conducting cases in host countries forms a strong foundation for cross-border claims,” noted JWB’s Ms Sri Aryani.

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JWB thanks our participants and speakers, and valued partners SENTRO, the ILO, the International Pro Bono Alliance and Herbert Smith Freehills for helping to make a promising start to building cross-border access to just compensation for migrant workers, even after returning home.