AS THOUSANDS of Filipinos face the prospect of being laid off due to the global financial crisis, President Arroyo has called for an intensified effort to place more workers overseas.
The Philippines is already one of the world’s leading sources for skilled and unskilled workers with up to nine million people, about 10 percent of the population, living and working in 140 countries.
These workers sent home $15 billion in the first 11 months of last year, contributing around 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and helping to keep growth for the year at a respectable 4.6 percent.
While remittances have managed to shield the Philippines from the full impact of the financial crisis, the small manufacturing and garment sectors—the country’s main export earners—are bleeding as factories close and thousands lose their jobs.
The Labor Department says some 15,000 workers have been laid off over the past two months, while 19,000 others had their work week cut to four days or less.
In its worst-case scenario, the government fears that as many as 800,000 could lose their jobs this year.
The Arroyo administration believes there are jobs to be had overseas for Filipinos mainly in the Middle East, and the more workers deployed, the more the country gets in remittances.
Mrs. Arroyo discussed the issue with Saudi Arabian officials last week in a brief stopover in Riyadh, where more than a million Filipinos already work.
The government is also considering lifting its five-year ban on Filipinos working in Iraq, and is sending a team to that country this month.
During a recent visit to the Philippines, Bayan Mohammed, Iraq’s minister for housing and construction, asked Philippine authorities to reconsider the ban.
Vice President Noli de Castro said recently that Iraq was looking for 10 million workers, ranging from doctors and nurses to construction workers.
Unemployment in the Philippines now stands at 6.8 percent in a country where more than 60 percent of the 39-million-strong work force is employed in low-paid fishing, agriculture and domestic work.
“There will be job losses in East Asia but there will be jobs in the Middle East because countries in the Middle East have responded to the crisis by pump-priming their economies,” Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Ralph Recto said.
Meanwhile, health care jobs would still be available in Europe and the United States because of the aging populations there, he said.
Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said there was unmet demand for 389,000 jobs abroad, including more than 100,000 in Qatar and 12,000 in Kuwait.
Recto expects the number of Filipinos working abroad will increase this year, as will their remittances back home, citing signs that the deployment of such workers went up in late 2008 despite the onset of the crisis.
Even amid the financial turmoil, the central bank has projected a 6-percent increase in remittances from overseas workers this year. This would be a slowdown from the estimated 15-percent increase in 2008.
Private recruiters of Filipinos for overseas work say there is huge demand—but that only a few Filipinos may qualify.
Manny Geslani, a consultant to recruitment agencies, said Philippine recruiters had only been able to fill about 40 percent of their job orders because of the shortage of qualified workers.
In the Philippines, some 27 million people live on a dollar a day or less, and one in three adults is unemployed or underemployed, according to official data. AFP –Mycardo Macaraig,Agence France-Presse