MANILA - Months after returning home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 80% of Filipino migrant workers were still unemployed, the UN's migration agency said in a report released Thursday.
The report "COVID-19 Impact Assessment on Returned Overseas Filipino Workers" by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) showed that 83% of the 8,332 OFWs, who were interviewed by the UN agency from Sept. to Dec. 2020, were still searching for a job three months after coming back to the Philippines.
Only the data of OFWs who returned after the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine in March 2020 were collected.
"There was a slightly higher rate of unemployment amongst females than males, at 84% compared to 82%, as well as amongst sea-based compared to land-based OFWs," the IOM said.
The UN agency noted that this was documented when the Philippines' unemployment rate rose to at least 10.2% in 2020 as the pandemic affected the country's economy and forced businesses to close.
"OFWs stated their biggest need was to obtain employment, with over 78% of all returnees identifying income generation as their greatest challenge," the IOM said.
"The general trend for OFWs is that very few utilize the skill sets acquired overseas when they return home to the Philippines. For the 14% of OFWs who had gained employment post-arrival in the Philippines, there were very few OFWs who worked in the same industry or utilized their skills learned abroad," it explained.
According to the IOM, almost half, or 48%, of the surveyed OFWs reported over 60% drop in their household income upon return.
More than 19% of interviewed OFWs also revealed their contracts were terminated early.
"Sea-based OFWs had a prevalence of 11% of early contract termination while land-based OFWs had a much higher prevalence at 21%. Land-based workers also represented a larger proportion of the total cases recorded with 17% versus 2% with sea-based workers. Males had a higher prevalence of contract termination than females at 20% versus 18%," the IOM said.
According to the migration agency, over half of the Filipino migrant workers who had their contracts early terminated did not receive their separation or compensation pay.
"The likelihood of non-payment was higher amongst sea-based workers at 62% compared to 59% of terminated land-based workers. Female OFWs had a greater likelihood of not receiving separation or compensation pay with 66% of terminated female OFWs compared to 59% of terminated male OFWs," it said.
At least 17% of the migrant workers also were unable to collect their final wage.
"The prevalence amongst land-based OFWs exceeded sea-based OFWs, with 19% versus 8%, and having an overall higher representation in the group at 90% vs 10%. However, in comparing male and female OFWs, the non-payment was nearly evenly distributed even though males had a greater prevalence of contract termination," the IOM said.
With their termination, nearly 16% of all Filipino migrant workers were forced to spend their own money to return home, the agency reported, adding that a whopping 73% of OFWs did not receive support from their employer before returning to the Philippines.
"Females proved less likely than males to receive any kind of assistance from employers," the IOM said.
Due to the apparent slow economic recovery of the Philippines, with many businesses and establishments struggling to regain losses they incurred due to COVID-19 restrictions, nearly half or 48% of OFWs said they want to move overseas again.
Of those percentage of OFWs, 64% said they want to go back to the same foreign country where they worked.
"Meanwhile, 35% stated they would like to remain home and just under 15% stated they were undecided. Overall, males and sea-based workers were much more interested in re-migrating internationally," the IOM said.
"Of all countries, Kuwait had the lowest rate of OFWs having an intention to return."
Earlier, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) urged displaced OFWs to avail of their entrepreneurship programs and start their own small business.
The DTI said a loan program is available for OFWs who want to start their business through DTI-attached agency Small Business Corporation (SB Corp).
According to the IOM, only 45% of all OFWs expressed an intent to start a business, and just 27% of them have enough capital to begin one.
"Over 69% of those who have a desire to set up a business do not have the means to do so, while the remaining 4% were unsure if what they have is enough," the UN agency said.
Due to the country's lack of jobs that require their acquired skills, 54% of OFWs indicated their intention to train and upgrade their skills through online and government programs, particularly those offered by Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
The state technical school has been offering its programs to displaced migrant workers so they could acquire new skills or improve their existing capabilities.
"Of those interested to upgrade their skill set, 93% expressed a desire to undergo some form of training. The types of training preferred were TESDA training at 71%, certificate courses at 14% and online short courses at 11%. For TESDA training, the gender ratio (was) close to reflecting the overall returned OFW population," the IOM said.
"However, there was a variation between land- and sea-based workers, with land-based OFWs having higher rates of opting for TESDA training at 74% versus 56%."
Earlier, TESDA urged repatriated OFWs to take up virtual courses related to agriculture so they can learn to produce food for their families or become "agripreneurs."
Aside from online courses, face-to-face training is also available under the agri-fishery program.
TESDA said its online program accommodated 1,238,522 registrants from the start of the pandemic until the end of 2020.
According to the IOM, at least 800,000 Filipino migrant workers returned to the Philippines by December 2020 after the pandemic began in March of the same year.
Filipino migrants, which number at least 10 million, often grapple with labor issues and recruitment woes, while some sought legal assistance for alleged involvement in criminal activity even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their remittances serve as a lifeline to the Philippine economy.
You can see the full IOM report here.