The challenges posed by COVID-19 to our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) opened the eyes of both our government officials and private sector executives to the ways and means that can alleviate the hardships faced by these very valuable human resources of our country. Thanks to the investigative work done by the leading researcher on OFWs in the Philippines, Dr. Veronica Ramirez (who held for five years the Research Chair on OFWs at the University of Asia and the Pacific), we can have a clearer picture of the needs of our OFWs and how Philippine society can help them navigate these turbulent times. Established by the Bank of the Philippine Islands, one of the private banks in the Philippines that have done most in serving the needs of OFWs all over the world, the Research Chair on OFWs has come out with very useful advice to government agencies and private associations on how to promote the welfare of OFWs both in the Philippines and abroad.
In a series of webinars organized by the Coalition of Licensed Agencies for Domestic and Service Workers (CLADS) and the Overseas Placement Association of the Philippines (OPAP) headed by Lucita Sermonia and Alicia Devulgado, respectively, in collaboration with the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) and other government agencies such as DOLE, POEA and OWWAI, labor attaches described what is happening to our OFWs in 19 cities and countries: ASIA: Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Singapore and Taiwan; MIDDLE EAST: Bahrain, Jeddah, Riyadh, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar; EUROPE: Germany, Geneva, Milan and the UK; OCEANIA: Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Dr. Ramirez has done us the very valuable service of summarizing the conditions of our OFWs in these diverse countries/cities.
Asian countries, like Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, are among the first to recover from COVID-19 and, therefore, are able to redeploy OFWs sooner than the others. Phlippine Ovesears Labor Office (POLO) Macau Labor Attache Ma. Nena German hopes that Macau’s pending legislation on the conversion from tourist to worker status will allow a number of Filipinos who are stranded as tourists in this Chinese city but desire to work in Macau to permanently stay as workers. There are also changes made by the Philippine Consulate so that the Letter of Support is now limited to first degree relatives. In Taipei, Labor Attache Cesar Chavez, Jr. said that the factories where thousands of Filipinos are employed are still operational. There are OFWs who chose to pre-terminate their contracts to receive their bonuses. If they elect to stay in Taiwan, they will receive the benefits specified in their contracts.
Japanese authorities made a major decision before the pandemic worsened. The Government ordered the closing of schools and the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. According to POLO Osaka Labor Attache Elizabeth Estrada, foreign workers in Japan are the luckiest because of Japan’s excellent social service system. Each worker, Japanese or foreigner with a residence card, is given an equivalent of P47,000 one time assistance. For those who had worked in Japan for at least six months and had made insurance payments, their unemployment insurance of up to 80% of their salary will be given. Aside from the financial assistance, the Japanese government also allows visa extension of three months so that the employees can continue working while waiting for the situation to normalize. Fortunately, Japan was one of the first countries to return to normalcy. Labor Attache Saul de Vries of POLO Singapore reported that many industries have placed their workers on Unpaid Leave, an arrangement allowed by the Ministry of Manpower. The Singaporean Government, for its part, provided relief to the employers by giving a rebate of 750 Singapore dollars for every foreign worker that they employ. It is up to the employers to decide when the amount will be given to the workers.
In the Middle East, the second largest source of remittances after the United States, POLO Bahrain Labor Attache Vicente Cabe announced that Bahrain has granted an amnesty for undocumented migrant workers who will now be allowed to legalize their stay and will be issued a visa valid until December 2020. In Oman, POLO Labor Attache Greg Abalos reported that Oman has started to shift to “Omanization,” under which certain jobs held by foreigners are now being given to Oman citizens. As a result, he expects that there will an increase in the demand for household service workers (HSWs) when citizens leave their homes to join the workforce. In Qatar, when non-citizens decide to leave their jobs from sponsor companies, they have to secure a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from their previous employer. POLO Qatar Labor Attache David Des Dicang said that there is a transfer procedure but when it comes to termination of a work contract, it must be done in accordance with Qatar laws. A harmonized contract has been discussed with the Qatar government. There are good prospects for Filipino service workers to support the Qatar manpower requirements for the big World Football event, FIFA 2022.
In Europe, POLO Milan Labor Attache Corina Bunag reported the sad news that thousands of Filipinos in Italy have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, Italy having been one of the worst hit by COVID-19 in the whole world. The Filipinos in Italy are mostly immigrants who have been petitioned by their relatives. Many are part time workers with one or two hours of work and commute from one employer to another. They work for more than two employers as home cleaners or care takers, care givers for senior citizens, hotel personnel and other service workers. Some have turned to peddling cooked food such as siopao, longganisa, chicharon and Filipino sweets to the Filipino population. During the pandemic, however, employers restrict entry to residences or workplaces, thus rendering thousands of Filipinos with no work and no income.
In Germany, POLO Germany Labor Attache Delmer Cruz expressed the optimistic view that there are bright prospects for Filipino health workers during and after the pandemic because of the high requirements for healthcare workers, including those who have no prior work experience. The same can be said of the UK. POLO U Labor Attache Amy Reyes cited the thousands of health workers in different parts of the UK where public officials, especially of NHS, have been very vocal about the great services being rendered by Filipino doctors, nurses and other health workers to the UK population during the most difficult times of the pandemic. They observed how heroic the Filipino nurses and caregivers were who persisted in COVID-19 patient care despite the scarcity in the beginning of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and test kits. It is expected that there will be a big demand for health workers from the Philippines even after the pandemic is licked in the near future.
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