ILO official warns against closing doors on migrants

Published by rudy Date posted on April 26, 2009

COUNTRIES that are migrant destinations should not shut their doors on foreign workers even amid the economic crisis, International Labor Organization’s Senior Economist Gyorgy Sziraczki of the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific said at a forum in the SDMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

Keeping their doors open to foreign workers, the developed economies will help their own economies and the world economy survive while mitigating their aging population problems, the ILO official said.

“There is a bright future for migration amid the crisis because, the country of origin [because of their remittances] and the receiving country [needing the supply of skilled and unskilled workers] both benefit from it,” he said during the Friday forum titled “Decent Work and Social Justice in Times of Crisis.”

Sziraczki hoped the recession-hit developed countries do not succumb to the temptations of protectionism.

“Of course, there are countries which would close their doors on foreign workers to boost local employment, but I am not sure if it is a right step to take,” Sziraczki said. “If one [country] closes borders, it would find it very difficult to open up again.”

The Senior Economist cited Malaysia’s case, in which, foreign workers are sometimes banned, but at times are allowed.

“What we need is a stable policy on borders,” he pointed out.

As of December 2007, the Philippines accounts for eight million migrant workers, and the government has repeatedly recognized that the Overseas Filipino Workers’ remittances has contributed to the country’s economy continued economic growth amid the crisis.

Linda Wirth, ILO director, also expressed concern over foreign workers being now at risk of enduring reduced work hours and benefits, forced and unpaid leaves of absence, and pay cuts of as much as 50 percent.

Wirth cited the case of the 6,406 Overseas Filipino Workers who were displaced as a result of the crisis, saying that only 2,000 of that number agreed to go back to the Philippines.

“More than 4,000 of the displaced workers did not go home and instead are still looking for re-employment abroad. We are worried that they would get low quality jobs and be lacking in the necessary protection for their rights and good working conditions,” Wirth pointed out.

The same could be said about local jobs in the Philippines, Wirth said. While 565,000 jobs were generated last year (more than triple the 148,000 jobs produced in 2007), unemployment climbed to 7.7 percent in January 2009 compared to only 7.4 percent in the same period last year.

“The labor market has a lot of resources, but members of the labor force lack the necessary skills for the jobs that are available,” Wirth noted. “It is not so much on the quantity of work, but on the quality of it.”

Sziraczki, on the other hand, hit the Asia-Pacific region’s limited spending on social protection putting decent work for workers at risk.

Latest ILO data show only 2.2 percent of Asia’s gross domestic product is allocated for social expenditure as compared to Africa’s 2.8 percent.

“Asia is spending less for social protection that Africa, when in fact China and India are still registering relatively robust economic growth amid the crisis,” Sziraczki said.

Wirth called for the decent work responses from the tripartite force—the government, workers, and the employers. These should include”frontloading investment in public works; support to productive enterprises; interventions to assist the reintegration of returning OFWs; and investing funds at the local level for job creation, rural development, and credit for micro and small and medium enterprises [SMEs] among others.”

“Social justice, that includes decent work, is a goal before the crisis, and it should be the same during the crisis, and after the crisis,” Wirth stressed.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque, however, assured the participants that the government is prepared to preserve and create decent work for Filipino workers, despite the crisis.

“Decent work can never be sacrificed in times of crisis. We remain committed to protect decent work,” Roque said in his speech.

He cited the government’s Economic Resiliency Plan, the country’s over-all framework to respond to the impact of the global crisis, as well as the Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program (Cleep), which comprises the collective efforts of different government agencies to provide jobs and livelihood to the public. –Llanesca T. Panti, Reporter and Prinz P. Magtulis, Trainee, Manila Times

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