Overseas Filipinos hit by financial crisis trickling back

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 13 2008 06:16 PM | Updated as of Oct 14 2008 09:21 AM

The effect of the global economic crunch on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) is already being felt, as jobless Filipinos start to trickle back into the country after their employers got hit by the financial crisis.

At the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Action Center at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, some returning OFWs said that they returned after being sacked from their jobs.

The OWWA Action Center said the employers of these OFWs blamed the economic crisis for their retrenchment.

Among them is Editha Nacase, who arrived from Beirut, Lebanon.

Nacase said that in her eight years working as a domestic helper in Beirut, her arrival Monday could be her last one, after her contract was not renewed by her employer.

She said that instead of renewing her contract, she was sent home after she asked for a raise from her current $150 salary.

"Sabi nila [her employers], krisis na raw kaya walang increase na maaasahan," Nacase said.

According to the OWWA Action Center, many OFWs like Nacase are now opting to look for jobs in the country, instead of working abroad.

Domestic helpers worried

Political commentator Antonio Abaya said Filipino overseas workers cut across all sectors of the labor market from professional to unskilled workers.
 
According to government data, more than 30 percent of Filipino overseas workers are laborers and unskilled workers.
 
"If the massive infrastructure and construction projects in the Gulf and Middle East, for example, are cut back, we could start to see many of these workers return home, which would have a significant impact on the economy," he said.

Among those feared to be hit hard by the crisis are the legions of domestic helpers, one of the largest groups of OFWs.

In Hong Kong, the group United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Unifil) said the economic crunch would have big effects on domestic helpers and their families back home - who depend largely on remittances these workers send - because of the nature of the employers' jobs.

"Kung hindi man mawalan ng trabaho ay magkaroon ng wage cuts, dahil marami sa [mga taga-] Hong Kong ay nasa mga bangko at investment firms [nagtatrabaho]," Unifil Hong Kong's Emman Villanueva said.

Migrante International said OFWs in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Middle East, among other Asian countries, would also be affected by the crisis.

An estimated 300,000 Filipino domestic helpers are spread throughout Asia, according to Migrante.

Benedicta Mely Tee, whose sister Soledad works as an OFW in Hong Kong, is among those worried about the effect of the crunch.

Tee said their family depends of Soledad's remittances for everything, including expenses in caring for their elder brother, who has a brain disease.

Tee fears that the P8,000 monthly remittance they receive would dwindle once the crisis hits Soledad's job, which would jeopardize their brother's health.

In Hong Kong, aside from losing their jobs, many Filipinos have also invested in pre-need plans in local insurance firms there, which are also in danger due to the crisis.

Gov't should be prepared

Back in the country, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) said that they are prepared to conduct massive re-tooling program in anticipation of the return of domestic helpers currently employed in Hong Kong and Singapore, in the event they return to the country.

TESDA said it has earmarked a portion of the P1.2 billion pesos given by the President for its training programs to retrain returning OFWs in the areas of hotel and restaurant work, caregiving. It has also started a training program on Japanese language in anticipation of the implementation of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).

TESDA added that it is currently in talks with Canada for jobs in the areas of caregiving, cruise liners and hotels.

TESDA said that despite the current frinancial crisis and news on the possible return of OFWs, the TESDA continues to train around 1.5 million students each year for their skills upgrade.

OFWs still leaving

However, despite these threats to their job security, many OFWs are still willing to face the challenges of working abroad.

Among them is Sonny Soriano, a first-time OFW leaving for Dammam, Saudi Arabia, to work there as a pipe-fitter.

Soriano said he is unfazed by the possible effects of the economic crisis on his job since he must earn money in an attempt to lift his family in Negros Occidental from poverty.

He said that if ever his job gets hit by the crisis, he would not go home immediately.

Elpidio Baniqued, a professional worker, echoed Soriano's statement.

Baniqued said that if his job becomes affected by the crisis, he would rather look for another work abroad instead of going back home.

"Siyempre hahanap ako sa ibang bansa. Marami naman diyan," he said.  --With reports from Alex Santos, Henry Omaga-Diaz, and Karen Davila, ABS-CBN News, and the Agence France-Presse