Government doubles budget for displaced workers; more countries call off hiring

Published by rudy Date posted on January 30, 2009

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has doubled to P400 million its fund for the implementation of employment and livelihood assistance for the growing number of workers displaced due to the global economic crisis.

This developed as close to 200 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were unable to leave for employment abroad as more countries called off the hiring of workers.

Recruitment industry officials reported that more and more companies in Europe have halted their projects and stopped hiring Filipino workers.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said “from the entire budget for 2009, we have allotted P400 million to help our displaced workers.”

But DOLE junked plans to provide a monthly allowance for the increasing number of displaced workers nationwide.

Roque said it is highly unlikely for the government to grant a monthly subsidy for displaced workers because it would be too costly.

He said the fund would be used to implement programs that would provide immediate employment for displaced workers as well as financial assistance to those who want to set up businesses.

“It’s a grant that we will be giving our displaced workers, not a loan that they would pay later on, and we will not require collateral,” he stressed.

Roque said DOLE would check thoroughly the kind of small business workers would put up.

Last year, DOLE allocated P122 million as a standby fund for the implementation of the Workers Income and Augmentation Program (WIAP) and Adjustment Measure Program (AMP).

Roque said part of the fund might also be allocated to help local government units nationwide in financing rehabilitation projects like the construction of schools and bridges where displaced workers will be hired.

He noted that the number of displaced workers, particularly in Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon (Calabarzon), has rapidly increased the past weeks.

He pointed out that last year, the country recorded 200,000 retrenchments, but those hired reached 204,000.

“We have more hiring before, that is why we even recorded growth in employment. Right now, we are jittery because we have more displaced workers than the accession rate,” he explained.

DOLE has so far recorded 19,000 retrenched workers and 34,000 affected by reduced working hours.

Roque said employers are required to file a notice at DOLE 30 days before terminating workers. He added that he had already directed all DOLE regional offices to closely monitor companies in their respective jurisdictions and ensure that those laid off would get at least a month’s salary.

Panasonic closure

As this developed, Roque said the impending closure of Panasonic Corp., the world’s largest maker of plasma television sets, is not related to the ongoing global financial crisis.

“Panasonic had expressed its intention to fold up last year because the battery they are manufacturing in their plant here has already been phased out. It has nothing to do with the crisis,” he explained.

Some 60 Filipino employees at Panasonic’s battery factory in Taytay, Rizal are expected to lose their jobs with the closure.

Roque said DOLE is working with various industries to facilitate re-employment of displaced workers.

“We have already facilitated re-employment of some displaced workers by transferring them to other industries where there are vacancies and we have also released livelihood assistance,” he said.

Yesterday, Roque said DOLE released some P1.4 million for the re-employment of displaced workers in the furniture manufacturing industry in Cebu.

Job orders cancelled

In other countries, recruitment officials reported that the deployment of about 200 OFWs to Canada was deferred because of job order cancellations.

Recruitment leader Lito Soriano confirmed the reports, saying that many OFWs lost their jobs before they could even leave for abroad.

“In my company alone, we have nine OFWs scheduled to leave for jobs in an oil and gas firm in Alberta, Canada, but their contracts were called off,” Soriano said.

He added that the Canadian firm was initially recruiting 70 OFWs, but only hired nine.

“The nine were already able to get their visas, in fact five of them already left, but were repatriated after several days,” he said.

“The foreign principal told us that their company has been seriously affected by the economic crisis and they have to scale down their workforce and lay off foreign migrants, including Filipinos and Indians,” Soriano said.

POEA records

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), however, showed that the deployment of only 32 OFWs were held in abeyance because of closure of projects or reduced production.

Countries that cancelled their projects include Singapore, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

POEA records also showed 4,100 OFWs were retrenched, with 3,494 of them employed in Taiwan factories.

Other countries that laid off workers were Australia, Brunei, United Kingdom, UAE, Macau, Korea, Russia and Poland.

POEA also reported 133,602 job orders as of January and about 600 new orders being approved daily, despite the economic crisis.

But recruitment leaders doubted the reported deployment of 1.37 million OFWs to various countries last year.

They said the POEA deployment figure was “unbelievable and questionable” since it is impossible for the country to post 27 percent growth in worker deployment.

Soriano appealed to POEA to come out with truthful data on retrenchment and job order cancellations for the protection of aspiring OFWs.

“Because of reports of so many jobs available in various European countries, now the illegal recruiters are thriving and taking advantage of the situation.”

“The data on jobs available abroad are misinformation because it is only the Middle East that is providing jobs for OFWs.”

Soriano expressed fear that countries in the Middle East might also resort to retrenchment of workers if the prices of oil would continue to go down.

DOLE assurances

Roque gave assurances that DOLE and other concerned government agencies are looking at other options to help displaced workers.

He said the department had already asked the local government units (LGUs) nationwide to adopt measures that would promote employment and grant financial assistance for displaced workers.

DOLE is also set to meet tomorrow with representatives of various local industries to discuss the current situation and possible measures to cushion the impact of the financial crisis on employment, he said.

“We will assess the situation and determine what the opportunities and needs of displaced workers are. We will also check what are the adjustments we have to undertake in our programs,” Roque pointed out.

Earlier, a ranking labor official said DOLE is studying the possibility of giving to displaced workers financial support similar to those being granted to the poorest of the poor.

The official, who requested anonymity, said DOLE may grant temporary financial assistance only as a stop gap measure so that those who were displaced can get immediate assistance until they find a new job.

Roque reported that DOLE has also entered into an agreement with the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) to facilitate immediate re-employment of displaced workers.

Roque said that under the agreement, the FFCCCII ’s 170 member-organizations nationwide would prioritize the hiring of displaced workers to fill up the vacancies in their companies.

The FFCCCII also assured workers that its member firms would pay the prevailing wage rates and other mandated benefits.

DOLE, on the other hand, will provide FFCCCII with the profiles of affected workers and their skills as well as the necessary training to equip them in their placement.

 ‘Short-sighted purpose’

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) yesterday criticized the government for its “short-sighted response” in the wake of increasing unemployment and underemployment in the country.

Bayan said the government must exert all efforts to provide workers and consumers with immediate relief, and cease from being “in denial” about the severity and core of the crisis.

Bayan pressed the government to urgently impose price controls, remove “unjust and burdensome” tax measures such as the VAT on oil and power, ensure the supply of affordable food especially rice, protect local businesses, and suspend debt payments to channel more funds to basic social services that would help the vulnerable sectors of society such as the poor.

The group lamented that amid mounting unemployment and underemployment, there are currently increases in the prices of gasoline as well as plans to increase power and water rates.

“The short-sighted response from the government shows that it is still in denial over the gravity and the roots of the crisis. Consumers, especially workers, demand that they be prioritized and be given adequate protection from the crisis,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bayan.

“The least the government can do for displaced workers is to lessen the burdens they face. This should mean government controlling the prices of basic commodities and utilities, and removing VAT on oil and power. These measures stand to directly benefit millions of poor Filipinos.”

Bayan said government must prioritize domestic needs over foreign debt servicing “in a time of severe crisis.”

“The national government can do more than the P50-billion reduction in debt servicing. Removing debt servicing lessens the pressure to collect more taxes from the people and frees up government resources, which can be used for social services,” Reyes said.

Bayan criticized what it branded as the “worn-out labor export policy” of the government. It debunked the belief of the government that sending Filipinos to work abroad is the solution to domestic unemployment.

Senators alarmed

Senators expressed alarm over the government’s apparent lack of readiness to address the effects of the global financial crisis and suggested that Congress conduct hearings to find out the real economic situation of the country.

Senators Manuel Roxas II, Francis Pangilinan, Rodolfo Biazon and Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada said it appeared the government was caught off guard by the closure of companies here and abroad.

Roxas, chairman of the Senate trade and commerce committee, filed Senate Resolution No. 852 asking Congress to look into the needed legislation to remedy the contraction of the economy due to the global financial meltdown.

“This is really frustrating. We have warned about this financial tsunami but (President Arroyo) played deaf and did nothing to address it. Until now, neither she nor her economic managers have acted on it.”

Roxas reiterated Mrs. Arroyo should stop her “business as usual” attitude and push her economic officials to come up now with detailed safety nets on how to stop the continued bleeding of domestic industries.

Drastically hit by the global slowdown is the country’s exports sector, with total merchandise export earnings in November 2008 dropping to $3.494 billion or by 11.9 percent from the November 2007 figure of $3.965 billion.

In particular, earnings of the electronics export industry posted a 17-percent year-on-year decline in November 2008, while income of businesses engaged in the export of apparel and clothing accessories went down by 15.8 percent.

Pangilinan noted that the reported bank holidays, shut down of multinational firms, job cuts and rationalization of government posts are serious signs of trouble that could no longer be ignored. – Mayen Jaymalin with Katherine Adraneda, Aurea Calica, Philippine Star

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