Government urged: Get ready for rise in number of unemployed

Published by rudy Date posted on March 21, 2011

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) should start preparing for the rise in the number of unemployed because of developments around the world, Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. said yesterday.

With Japan still reeling from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and accompanying tsunami that hit its northeast region last week, Villar said it would not be farfetched to see a number of Japanese companies, including those situated in the Philippines, to be affected by the catastrophic incident.

Villar, chairman of the Senate committee on trade, said Japanese firms have a strong presence in the country, particularly in the Clark Freeport in Pampanga where 26.75 percent of companies are run by Japanese nationals.

He also cited data from the Philippine Economic Zone Authority indicating that there are at least 580 firms with Japanese equity availing themselves of incentives in various economic zones across the country.

“While we continue to hope for the best, we must also be realistic about the consequences attached to the sad and tragic turn of events in Japan,” Villar said.

Villar also cited the continuing turmoil in the Middle East where political unrest has hit several nations and has affected a significant number of Filipino workers based there.

He said the Middle East, which has traditionally been the source of overseas employment for jobless Filipinos, is already showing signs of trouble and could affect thousands of Filipinos working there and those bound for that region.

“Today, we are witnessing the signs of reverse migration from different points in the Middle East and Asia due to external factors and not because of a fast-growing national economy. We need a concrete plan to boost domestic investments and create alternative jobs for displaced and repatriated workers,” Villar said.

According to Villar, unemployment in January rose to 7.4 percent with an estimated 2.9 million Filipinos without work, compared to 2.8 million the previous year.

“This number excludes workers affected by the effects of multiple crisis situations abroad on our own economy,” he said

Villar urged the Department of Agriculture and DTI to work together on a joint program to push agri-business as an alternative source of livelihood.

Priority slots

The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) said it would give priority to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have been displaced from troubled countries in the Middle East in its free skills training.

TESDA director general Joel Villanueva gave this assurance yesterday as he issued a memorandum instructing the agency’s regional and provincial directors to ensure slots for repatriated OFWs.

“In view of the urgency to provide assistance to returning OFWs, specifically from Libya and other Middle East countries, all regional/provincial/district directors and administrators of TESDA Technology Institutions (TTIs) are hereby instructed to prioritize these workers in the various training programs being offered in TTIs,” he said.

TESDA is coordinating with the DOLE to get a list of OFWs who are interested to undergo skills enhancement programs.

Labor migration agreements

Sen. Francis Escudero, meantime, called on the government to enter into labor migration agreements with countries that take in Filipino workers in order to ensure that they are protected against abuse and labor malpractice.

Escudero lamented that reports of Filipino migrant workers facing various problems with their employers overseas continue to come in and oftentimes, they are left to fend for themselves.

He said the government should put in place a comprehensive labor migration policy for OFWs to ensure that they are safe and protected.

Among the common complaints of OFWs are those related to health and safety, labor malpractice, non-payment of overtime pay, withholding of pay slips, poor accommodations, discrepancies in wages and repatriation in case of crisis.

“It is high time that our government start to acknowledge that we have a labor-export policy and rid the industry of unscrupulous labor recruiters and protect our migrant workers,” Escudero said.

“We already have enough ripe reasons to initiate a government-to-government arrangement for labor migration since we have long seen the reality of a labor exodus of Filipinos to other countries. The Philippine government can no longer deny this,” he added.

Escudero’s call for labor migration agreements came as senior lawmakers said yesterday that the Aquino administration appears to have left OFWs trapped in troubled nations “like lambs to slaughter” as the government has failed to ensure their safety despite numerous opportunities to do so.

Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay scored Malacañang for just asking trapped OFWs in Libya to go home instead of ramping up its efforts to repatriate them as United Nations gave the go-signal for international air strikes against Ghadafi-led forces.

She also cited reports that Philippine embassy officials in Japan wanted to evacuate when many Filipinos still remain trapped in disaster-hit areas in the north.

Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said most of the repatriated OFWs from Libya disclosed that they were able to safely return to the country only because they were assisted by their employers.

Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello, chairman of the House committee on overseas workers affairs, urged Malacañang to secure OFWs as “Bahrain gets closer to breaking point.” There are about 50,000 Filipino migrant workers in Bahrain. –Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) with Sheila Crisostomo, Paolo Romero

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