WE are glad to know the government has come up with some kind of contingency plan so that the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who might be displaced from Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are provided income-generating options to fall back on when they get home.
Perhaps many of these OFWs are still in debt from payments made to their placement agencies. There are certainly no easy solutions for giving all of them jobs outright. Nevertheless, solutions are urgently required.
Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has around 20,000 jobs in the country that can be offered to Filipinos coming home from Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
He said the DOLE will conduct a one-week job fair to workers in these countries showcasing different employment opportunities in the Philippines.
Bello added that the 20,000 new jobs would be provided by former Sen. Manny Villar, who is in need of 18,000 skilled workers, and another 2,000 from the Department of Education, which needs teachers. The reintegration program of the Overseas Workers Welfare Association also provides livelihood assistance.
While there has been no sudden mass return migration of our OFWs in the Middle East (at least not yet), the DOLE said over 600 OFWs in Qatar have already lost their jobs and more may suffer the same fate due to a prevailing diplomatic crisis between Qatar and other Middle East countries.
Some displacement of Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia could also happen because of the oil crisis and the Saudization policy, which the Saudi government started implementing in 2011 to boost employment among Saudi nationals by curbing the hiring of foreign workers by Saudi companies.
In line with the kingdom’s Vision 2030, the Saudi Ministry of Labor and Social Development would no longer allow foreign workers in 12 retail or sales sectors, including car dealerships, garments and clothes, furniture and appliances stores by September 11; electronics, watches and optic stores by November 9; and medical equipment and supplies, hardware, auto spare parts, carpet stores and sweet shops by January 2019.
The Saudi government will prioritize the employment of their nationals in these sectors, which could affect 9 million foreign workers in the kingdom, including our OFWs.
We urge the government to strengthen its contingency program for return migration. Anyway, our OFWs who might go or be sent home are productive citizens, workers with tangible skills and who are qualified for jobs in various local sectors and industries. It is not like they have nothing to offer and no one is hiring.
For instance, the business-process outsourcing (BPO) industry is still the biggest generator of jobs, according to the DOLE. The automotive, coconut and tourism sectors could also readily employ people.
With manufacturing costs in China becoming higher, the country could lure investments in certain manufacturing activities, like garments assembly, which could also be a source of jobs. The Philippines has the potential to become a production hub of middle and high-end goods for huge markets if we could provide a competitive manufacturing capacity and lower the cost of electricity.
Demand for electronic and electrical engineers, as well as other workers in the electronics sector, is expected to remain high in upcoming years as the industry continues to grow.
Because of our vast natural resources, sustainable mining could be one of the top recipients of foreign investments and also a main job generator.
In a nutshell, the government has options, many rays of light to brighten the cloudy forecast on return migration, if it could get its act together and work well with the private sector. It just needs to implement policy reforms that could strengthen the economy and the domestic labor market, and more important, rouse itself from its complacency and overreliance on OFW remittances.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano