OFWs to brace for harder times in 2009

BAGUIO CITY — A global alliance of Filipino migrant organizations warned Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) to anticipate more retrenchments, lower wages and worse working conditions abroad as the government targets to deploy two million Filipinos overseas by 2009.

“We will hold the Arroyo administration fully accountable for being hell-bent at exporting the most number of Filipinos abroad amidst the worsening global crisis,” exclaimed Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International.

The group explained that the series of government announcements of job openings abroad is in line with the 2007 state-of-the-nation-address of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo where she pledged to deploy two million OFWs before her term ends in 2010.

“Time and again, we say that labor exportation is neither a tool for development nor an answer to the present crisis. We agree with Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President Angel Lagdameo when he lamented about the breakup of Filipino families because of parents working overseas,” added Martinez.

The head of the influential CBCP was quoted as saying he is sad that poverty forced parents to work overseas just to make ends meet, breaking up the family in the process.

Middle East worst destination

“Contrary to Arroyo’s claims, the Middle East region remains to be the worst destination for OFWs in terms of labor rights protection, especially now that it is also being hit hard by the global crisis,” said Martinez.

Migrante cited that in Dubai alone, labor complaints in the Ministry of Labor have tripled since November 2008. Most cases are of illegal termination and non-payment of salaries. The group said the situation is similar even in Saudi Arabia, the top destination country of OFWs in the region.

“It is gibberish for Arroyo to say that Middle East countries remain a haven for overseas employment just to cover up her administration’s inutility at addressing the crisis. The Ittefaq Steel Products Factory, the second largest steel manufacturer in Saudi Arabia, has announced it would send 80 % of its 2,145 workers on leave without salary for three months starting on New Year’s Day,” Martinez revealed.

Martinez added that in the UAE, not only are the real estate and construction industries affected by the present global economic downturn. Big multinational companies like General Electric, IBM and Jeffries International are likewise retrenching their workforce or are totally pulling out operations from the said gulf country.

Access to justice

Migrante urged the governent to concentrate on protecting the rights and welfare of OFWs instead of focusing only on its alleged aggressive marketing of OFWs abroad.

“In this time of crisis the main problem of OFWs is the lack of access to legal protection. Migrant workers are the first ones hit by this crisis and, more often than not, they do not have anyone to turn to in the event of labor disputes. It is unfortunate that our government remains callous to this problem,” Martinez said.

The group cited the case of retrenched OFWs from Taiwan who talked to POEA deputy administrator Hans Cacdac to complain. They alleged their recruiters are overcharging them. Migrante said they got information that POEA mediating officers are siding with the recruiters as they persuade the workers to accept P5,000 as settlement out of the P95,000 they have paid as placement fee.

“This only indicates that OFW victims of unfair labor practices will have no access to justice under the worsening exploitation and abuses brought about by the global economic crisis,” Martinez concluded.

“POEA records show that OFW deployment reached 1.221 million to more than 190 countries from January to November 2008,” said Martinez. # Northern Dispatch


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