How Russian ruble plunge affects OFWs

by Anais Llobet, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Dec 25 2014 02:59 PM | Updated as of Dec 26 2014 07:01 AM

How Russian ruble plunge affects OFWs 1
A woman walks under a board listing foreign currency rates against the Russian ruble outside an exchange office in central Moscow on December 17, 2014. Photo by Yuri Kadobnov, Agence France-Presse

The plunge of the ruble hasn't left only Russians shell shocked -- foreign workers from traders to maids are considering bailing out as Moscow turns from an El Dorado into a financial black hole.

The phenomenon is not quantifiable nor is there anything to indicate an exodus of expatriates is under way, but many admit to considering whether it is time to leave Russia after the ruble shed a quarter of its value in a couple of days last week.

While the ruble has recovered somewhat, it is still down some 40 percent against the dollar and euro this year, leaving many in a precarious financial position.

Joy left her three young children in Manila earlier this year to cash in on the high wages offered by well-to-do Muscovites to clean their apartments.

"When I arrived in April, I was paid 1,500 rubles, or 42 dollars (30 euros), for four hours of housecleaning," said the 28-year-old. "Today, for the same work, it comes out to just 20 dollars (16 euros)."

She had been lured here from the Philippines by friends who had been working in Moscow.

"They told me the ruble was very stable and there wasn't as much competition as in other cities," said Joy.

She had been sending home up to two-thirds of her earnings to support her family in one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries.

'Marooned in Moscow'

"My goal was to have saved up enough to pay for my oldest son to continue his studies and buy a moto-taxi for my husband so he would have a job," said Joy.

"I also wanted to repair the roof of my parents' house ... but today I realise that is impossible."

Now, she said, "I don't earn enough to send home for them to survive. My parents don't understand, they think I'm working less, and I feel guilty."

Joy is comparatively lucky to be getting paid at all as many migrant labourers, particularly those from former Soviet republics who work on construction sites, are not.

"Employers have now stopped paying altogether, referring to the crisis," said Anara Beisheyeva, a lawyer for Migration and Law, an organisation that works with migrant labourers in Russia.

"They tell them: 'there is no money, we are closing'," said Beisheyeva. "People are being left with nothing."

She said for the moment most migrant labourers were sticking around, hoping for a quick end to the crisis rather than returning home with empty pockets.

But even buying the ticket home could soon be out of reach for some, as the prices of plane tickets are set in dollars.

"They are becoming more and more expensive while I am earning less and less money," said Joy. "I'll have to decide quick or I'll might end up being marooned in Moscow.

'Black Monday every day'

At the other end of the social ladder, a French trader in his 30s regrets having taken up a job in Moscow with a Russian bank at the end of September.

"They offered me a good salary and big bonus," said Olivier. "I told myself this was the opportunity to work in a dynamic market that has been growing for four years and that it is a good idea to leave Europe which is stagnating."

But just two weeks after his arrival, Olivier was disillusioned with his ruble salary that was quickly losing value in euro terms.

If the trader thought he'd see "double-digit inflation quickly compensated with regular raises" to his salary, Olivier said he "never expected a Black Monday every day."

The term is shorthand for a market crash, and traders in Moscow have taken to using Black Tuesday for the day last week when the ruble shed 20 percent of its value, shooting to over 80 to the dollar and 100 to the euro.

"It's clear, the Russians are selling all of their rubles, and when locals abandon their currency it is time for foreigners to leave," said Olivier, adding he was ready to buy his plane ticket home.

"I will be the first to leave because I am single and have no children, but the others won't be far behind."