Gov’t seeks more overseas jobs to buoy up economy

Published by rudy Date posted on January 26, 2009

The government is still depending heavily on other countries to provide jobs and assistance to thousands of its workers who are daily losing jobs both here and abroad.

The Palace yesterday said the government is stepping up the search for new job opportunities here and abroad for Filipino workers to mitigate the impact of the global economic meltdown on the country’s workforce.

Presidential Management Staff (PMS) Director General Cerge Remonde said in an interview yesterday afternoon over Radyo ng Bayan that tapping job markets abroad is a priority item of the agenda of President

Arroyo when she attends the 2009 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland late this month.

On Feb. 1, Remonde will replace Press Secretary Jesus Dureza who will assume the post of Chief Presidential Legal Counsel.

Also yesterday, Vice President Noli de Castro said he will ask the Department of Foreign Affairs to study the possible lifting of deployment ban to Iraq, which is currently in need of thousands of foreign workers to work on multi-million dollar post war reconstruction projects this year.

Manila imposed the ban on Iraq following the kidnapping of two Filipino truck drivers in 2004 and 2005.

Angelo de la Cruz was threatened to be beheaded by his captors in July 2004, but later on released after President Arroyo capitulated to the demand of the kidnappers to withdraw a small Philippine contingent in Iraq—a decision strongly criticized by Washington and other allies.

Another Filipino, accountant Robert Tarongoy, was also abducted by militants and freed in June 2005 after eight months of captivity.

Observers say that the Arroyo government is scrambling for job openings abroad because its inability to create gainful employment in the country exposes the errors in its economic policy that cannot sustain existing economic sectors and to create new ones.

For instance, the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) yesterday pressed their demand for a P32-billion production subsidy for small fishermen to cushion the impact of global economic crisis. hey said government is still enslaved by multinational interests and the local elite.

De Castro, the concurrent presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers, said he will meet with Foreign Affairs Secretarty Alberto Romulo and Undersecretary for migrant workers affairs Esteban Conejos to determine if it is already safe to send Filipinos to the Middle East state.

“I met with representatives of the Iraqi government in Manila and they said there are about 10 million job opportunities for foreign workers in their country,” De Castro said in his weekly radio program.

Iraq Charges d’Affaires Adel Mawlood Al-Hakimh said Iraq is in need of workers in the construction, engineering, energy, health, tourism and services fields in 2009, noting that they wanted Filipinos to fill in most of the job vacancies. He said the Iraqi government plans to spend billions of dollars for its reconstruction programs.

He also said that there would be a demand for oil workers. Iraq has the capacity to produce 2.5 million barrels a day and plans to increase production to three million next year, Al-Hakimh said.

Before the ban, around 6,000 Filipinos were working in Iraq and were confined inside US military camps due to the volatile security condition there. But Al-Hakimh said the figure has swelled to 15,000, most of them working for foreign companies in Iraq’s northern region.

He said they entered Iraq from neighboring countries like Jordan and Syria and were brought in by companies from the US and other countries that are members of the coalition forces.

There is no way to monitor the exit and entry of Filipino workers in Iraq after the Philippine Embassy in Baghdad was temporarily relocated to Amman, Jordan in January 2005 because of the worsening security condition in Iraq.

Aside from Iraq, the Philippines also maintains a travel ban to Lebanon and Nigeria.

In his radio interview, Remonde claimed that the President had long anticipated the world economic debacle and had laid down policies and programs to address its possible adverse effects on the Philippines.

Cabinet secretaries have been assigned to oversee the implementation of the employment program in specific provinces or regions of the country.

The PMS chief said that aside from expanding local employment opportunities through such government projects as the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, irrigation systems, school buildings and hospitals, the President is also looking for job openings for Filipino workers in “new job markets abroad.”

The 5,000 Filipino expatriate workers displaced in Taiwan, for instance, could easily find jobs in the Middle East where 50,000 jobs are waiting for them, said Remonde.

Additionally, President Arroyo had instructed the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to set aside adequate funds to be loaned out to dislocated expatriate workers as emergency capital for livelihood projects pending their re-deployment to foreign countries, he said.

“This is the reason why the President had also visited the Middle East, New Zealand and Australia within the past two years to create new overseas job markets,” Remonde added.

The PMS chief explained that the government is now consolidating the funding requirement of the emergency employment projects being implemented by the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and other executive departments.

Yesterday, the DoLE yesterday that a safety net measure has been activated by the government of South Korea to assist any overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in that country affected by the global financial crisis.

In a report to Labor Marianito Roque, the Philippine Labor Attaché to Seoul Lawyer Delmer Cruz, said the Ministry of Labor (MoL) of Korea has assured assistance to affected OFWs by putting them on the priority list for available new job openings under its Employment Permit System (EPS).

Roque was apprised by Cruz that notwithstanding the ongoing global crisis, only 74 OFWs were confirmed to have been displaced so far, out of the many thousands employed in the host country under the standing EPS agreed by the governments of the Philippines and Korea.

Cruz said the initiative of the MoL of Korea to prioritize displaced OFWs in job opportunities will complement the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (Polo) efforts in pushing actively the Returnee Support Program, which undertakes the matching of returning/displaced workers from Korea with the manpower requirements of Philippine-based Korean companies.

Amidst the development, the DoLE’s Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) indicated in a preliminary report that under the EPS, around 20,961 OFWs have been deployed to Korea from 2004 until Dec. 31, 2008. The POEA gave the assurance that the three-year Memorandum of Understanding on the EPS forged by the Philippines and Korea on Oct. 20, 2006 is set for re-extension shortly pending completion of the negotiations towards a new accord.

Cruz said most of the affected workers came from that country’s electronics and export sectors which supplies products like semiconductors, LCD, and car accessories to crisis hit-US and Europe. He further said the number of workers applying for change of workplace had increased from July to November last year, and media reports say that the full brunt of the economic slowdown would be felt between January and June 2009.

Quoting Deputy Director Kim Yoon-Hye of the MoL’s Workforce Policy Division, Cruz said the ministry stands ready to recommend EPS workers requesting for a change of workplace due to closure or suspension of business or bankruptcy of their employer, or non-renewal of their contracts, to Korean employers who submit new job offers to the Human Resource Development Service, which is the designated receiving agency under the EPS.

In principle, under the EPS, foreign workers in Korea are not allowed to move to a different workplace except due to reasons he or she is not responsible for, such as temporary shutdowns and closure of business. In addition, under the EPS, foreign workers who have entered Korea are protected by automatic enrollment in that country’s Employment Insurance, among other coverage.

In a significant development, Cruz informed Roque that the emerging OFW host country of Finland, through its embassy in Korea, has positively indicated the willingness to provide additional opportunities to any OFWs displaced in that country, particularly those with experience as caregivers and as services sector workers. Michaela P. del Callar, Charlie V. Manalo and PNA

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