Mid-East market may absorb OFWs displaced by crisis

by MARIA ALETA O. NIEVA, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Dec 10 2008 12:18 PM | Updated as of Dec 11 2008 12:52 AM

The Philippine government has taken a proactive stand in the face of possible overseas workers lay offs due to the financial crisis that has hit major economies around the world, according to the labor department chief.

“Ang pagbabawas ng ating mga kababayan sa overseas employment sector is, of course, our concern,” said Labor and Employment Secretary Marianito Roque.

Roque told abs-cbnNEWS.com during the Depatment of Labor and Employment's (DOLE) 75th Anniversary presentation “Doon Po Sa Amin” held Monday at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City that the government is securing ties with countries in the Middle East in the hope of expanding the labor market for Filipinos.

“We are strengthening our relationship with employers in the Middle East because the main area of absorption would still be the Middle East. Wala naman kasi doon na recession na tinatawag tayo. Doon tuloy-tuloy ang ating representation,” Roque said.

Roque said DOLE is trying to resolve the problem of possible loss of jobs by conducting Philippine labor missions with foreign employers.

“Tinatanong natin kung ano ba ang sitwasyon talaga at kung sakaling magkakaroon talaga o hindi maiiwasang mabawasan o matanggal talaga sila sa trabaho, ihahanap natin sila kaagad ng malilipatan na trabaho, both dito sa ating local employment at overseas employment,” said Roque.

The labor chief also added that displaced workers who opt to stay in the Philippine can avail of the livelihood projects offered by the government.

The DOLE has given instructions to all Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) to “upgrade the quality of relationships with the employers” to find out the Filipino workers' situation in their respective countries “in as far as employment opportunities” are concerned.

“Of course, looking at equitable employment terms for our workers.  Yun muna ang hinahanap natin ngayon. May proteksiyon ba ang mga workers natin? Mayroon ba silang makukuhang fair and equal treatment? Maayos ba ang kanilang wages, [labor] standards? And once that is done, then we will open our option for our workers to decide,” he said.

GMA in Qatar

He said President Arroyo is expected to go to Qatar to make sure that the jobs of Filipino workers will be retained. Also, the mission will seek to find out other options available for OFWs.

“We have already strengthened our labor relations with Qatar with bilateral agreements,” he said.

Last October, the Philippines and Qatar signed a memorandum of agreement. The accord resulted in the adoption of a Standard Employment Contract for OFWs designed to address the problem of contract substitution, one of the biggest labor problems of OFWs. The agreement means only one contract will be observed by both governments.

Based on the stock estimates of the Philippine Overseas and Employment Administration (POEA), there were 56,722 Filipinos deployed to Qatar in 2007 from 45,795 in 2006.

In terms of deployment of OFWs, Qatar ranks fourth in the top ten destinations with Saudi Arabia in the lead, followed by the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.

New markets

Meanwhile, the department is now looking at new markets for Filipino migrant workers, especially those displaced by the crisis.

More than 1,000 OFWs employed in Taiwan and 200 seafarers on board cruise ships have been displaced by the global economic crisis.

“Pero may trabaho na ulit ang mga seafarers,” he added.

“Bulgaria is opening up. Were looking forward to Southern Australia next year, and then Canada is still increasing their level of hiring,” he said.

Australia, he said, would be needing workers, from craftsman to professionals to truck drivers, IT workers, and nurses.

“Every week, may mga bago tayong employers na dumadating. Ang Australia would be on the first quarter of next year,” he said.

Furthermore, while many locals are losing their jobs in London, Roque said, just weeks ago, the Philippines was given an approval to deploy 160 Filipino nurses to London.

When asked if the Christmas season would be “merry” enough for OFWs despite the crisis, Roque said “I would say so. As of now, the situation is not yet alarming”.