'60% of OFW families are poor'

By Estrella Torres, Business Mirror

Posted at Jun 03 2010 02:09 PM | Updated as of Jun 03 2010 10:09 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Despite the steadily rising remittance levels of Filipino migrant workers—reaching $18 billion in 2009—at least 60% of their families remain poor, according to a Church-backed group doing support work for the sector.

This, as the head of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in the Philippines raised concern that the situation for the families of Filipino migrant workers will remain unchanged or may worsen due to their consumerist attitude.

Linda Wirth, ILO director in Manila, said migrant workers and their families are constantly exposed to various risks that require huge levels of spending. These include illnesses, accidents, loss of property, natural and man-made disasters, climate-change impact and the lingering global financial crisis.

She said families of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) also belong to the 80 % of the global population who do not have access to basic social services.

“While not all of the OFWs are poor, there is a bigger percentage of them who came from poor families and these are the ones who are sending money more regularly to their families compared with those migrant families who are already doing well. The tendency is really to seek help from friends and relatives,” Wirth said at a press briefing of the ILO in Makati City on Wednesday.

Fr. Edwin Corros, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, a panel of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said the Philippines has more than 8 million OWFs, and at least 60% of their families remain poor.

This is so because these migrant workers are predominantly classified as unskilled or semiskilled, such as household-service workers who end up empty-handed when they return to the country, as wages promised them are lower than promised and they have to pay off debts incurred in preparing for overseas work. Worse, many of them also suffer from abusive employers and/or fall prey to human traffickers—tragedies that entail extra costs for them and their families in terms of hospitalization, loss of wages and legal fees.

“It is very difficult to convince them to save because they will need it in the future,” Corros said during the ILO press briefing for the Pamilyang OFW Savers and Wellness Club.

Ferdinand Berba, senior vice president for Business Development of Pioneer Life Insurance, said the savings rate for the Filipino migrant workers is way below their counterparts from China and Indonesia. They are faring a little better than migrant workers from Myanmar and Cambodia.

He said 42% of the savings of Filipino migrant workers are usually spent on emergency expenses ahead of the allotment for children’s education (34%), food (6.6%), marriage or other future plans (5.9 %), business investment (3.4 %), housing (2.9 %), among others.

“We can see that they are not saving for the future. The tragic thing is that they go home unsuccessful, and they don’t have any savings. Their life as well as their families is very far from what it used to be when the OFW is abroad,” Berba said.