DOLE allays fears of OFWs

Published by rudy Date posted on October 14, 2008

by Mayen Jaymalin
from The Philippine Star

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque gave assurances yesterday that the world economic crisis would not cause Filipino workers in the United States and other countries to lose their jobs.

“It may affect us, but it will not hit us like a tidal wave, not suddenly,” he said. “With the bailout, I think we can avoid possible job losses.”

Roque said concerned sectors have assured him that there will be no retrenchment of workers in the US and other countries.

Most workers in the US are nurses and they are would be least affected by the economic crunch, he added.

However, sources at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said the US economic crisis might affect employment in the country’s export industry.

The DOLE is already planning for contingency measures to cushion the impact of the crisis on the export industry, officials added.

On the other hand, Labor Undersecretary Lourdes Trasmonte said contrary to projections, domestic services are the most “resilient” among the different categories of overseas Filipino workers.

“In times of crises, domestic work is the last to be affected,” she said.

Trasmonte allayed fears of mass retrenchment of domestic helpers overseas as a result of the world financial crisis.

The worse scenario for domestic helpers is a possible reduction in pay and lesser benefits, she added.

However, Trasmonte said some countries might be affected by the crisis, and consequently the jobs of Filipino workers in restaurants, transportation, stores and business process outsourcing sectors might also be affected.

The Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) agreed with Trasmonte.

Ellene Sana, CMA executive director, said they even expect higher demand for domestic helpers because of the crisis.

“As both parents will tend to work during these times to make ends meet, they will more and more rely on household service workers so that the women in the household can go out of the house and increase the family income,” she said.

However, Sana warned of possible belt-tightening among foreign employers and thus a possible reduction in wages and other benefits for migrant workers.

Sana cited the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s when domestic workers in Hong Kong were affected by various cost-saving proposals like salary cuts.

Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) called for the establishment of an OFW counseling center (OCC) in airports in preparation for the possible influx of displaced workers from abroad.

TUCP spokesman Alex Aguilar said the government must allow displaced OFWs easy access to credit to enable them to put up their own business and other alternative sources of livelihood.

“The OCC can provide counseling and other services to displaced OFWs like facilitation of their re-employment and retraining to they could easily find employment here,” he said.

“The government must also sit down with workers and other concerned groups for the planning of protective mechanisms to address the negative impact of the economic crisis.”

The DOLE is already planning a tripartite action to help cushion the impact of the economic crisis on workers here and abroad, Trasmonte said.

Meanwhile, the DOLE launched the third cycle of the Philippine agenda on decent work to strengthen multi-sectoral collaboration to provide more full, decent, and productive employment for Filipino workers.

Roque said the launching of the decent work agenda signals the start of greater efforts by the social partners in pursuit of more sustainable measures in promoting and enhancing decent work in the country.

“Decent work” is defined by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as “opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.” Its six dimensions are opportunities for work, freedom of choice of employment, productive work, equity in work, security at work, and representation at work.

Roque said the efforts should focus, among others, on the application of ratified international labor standards, intensified enforcement of labor and occupational safety and health standards (OSH), elimination of child labor, and advocacy on the Magna Carta for informal sector workers.

Sacadas in Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and Western Visayas will also be assisted in getting access to Philhealth.

Tripartite efforts shall also be extended to promote the welfare of workers in the banana, pineapple, tuna, and biofuel industries.

Filipinos also work in Iceland

Even in tiny Iceland, one of the countries hardest hit by the financial crisis, there were 1,411 Filipino workers at last count.

More than two million Filipinos live and work in the United States and account for some 30 percent of remittances.

Last year, according to government data, Filipinos could be found working in 202 countries around the world.

Filipinos man a third of the world’s merchant shipping, drive trucks in war-torn Iraq and work on construction sites in the Gulf and Middle East.

Hospitalsin Australia, Canada and the United States employ thousands of Filipino nurses and doctors.

More than one million Filipinos live and work in Saudi Arabia alone, from doctors and engineers to laborers.

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, about 40,000 Filipino nurses work in Britain’s National Health Service, half of them already permanent residents or British citizens.

In Hong Kong and Singapore, they look after the homes and children of local residents, while in Macau they can be found dealing cards in the casinos.

The gaming boom there has attracted more than 23,000 Filipinos, forcing the Philippine government to open a consulate in the former Portuguese colony.

Hotels throughout Asia employ Filipinos at all levels, from reception to management, and even outgoing US President George W. Bush employs a Filipino cook in the White House.

According to government data, more than 30 percent of Filipino overseas workers are laborers and unskilled workers.

The Philippine government is starting to draw up contingency plans with the possibility of large numbers of Filipino overseas workers losing their jobs, but has yet to announce any details.

More funds for DOLE, DFA urged

To enable the government to mitigate the impact of the global economic crisis, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute (BOPC) urged the government to allocate more funds for DOLE and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

“The labor department would need more funds to respond to the threat of layoffs and displacements arising from the current global financial crisis,” Susan Ople, president of the policy center said

“Now, more than ever, we need to have a massive job-matching and skills training program to boost the productivity and employability of our workforce.”

The policy center said the DOLE’s budget this year amounted to only P1.87 billion, while its proposed budget for next year is slated to be increased by a meager 3.4 percent to P1.94 billion.

On the other hand, Ople said the DFA needs to beef up its personnel in embassies and consulates servicing a higher number of Filipino workers abroad.

“It also needs bigger budget for the repatriation of trafficking victims found all over the world,” she said.

“If you take out personnel services from the DOLE’s budget, it only has a billion for programs, services, and projects to help Filipino workers here and abroad as well as to assist the unemployed and underemployed in their search for decent and sustainable work.”

The BOPC said only P356 million out of the proposed P1.94-billion DOLE budget for 2009 is allotted for job search assistance services to help at least 3 million unemployed Filipinos.

“OFW remittances contribute 9.2 percent to our country’s gross national product (GNP). Last year, they sent over $14 billion in remittances, a fact that is not lost on our economic planners and international credit rating agencies. How come the two departments that provide direct services to Filipino workers continue to lag behind other agencies, budget-wise?” BOPC said.

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