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Pinoys find solace in states fortifying against pandemic

IT’S the winter of discontent; at least for Filipinos in France, Italy, Japan and Spain. The states governing these labor-receiving countries have reciprocated the warm hospitality and sedulousness of Filipino workers.

“People here are more ‘chill,’” observed Leonor Dimaculangan who’s just on her fourth month in Spain after moving from Singapore. This is how Dimaculangan describes the support laid down by Madrid: healthcare program; unemployment benefits; job or wage security; and, ayuda (help). One or two of these were also cited as having benefited nearly 0.7 million Filipinos in France, Italy and Japan; three of the world’s advanced economies battling Covid-19.

The alpine air that sweeps through Madrid adds to the calm Filipino and foreign workers feel given Spain’s response to Covid-19 infection.

With about 78 percent of its 47.35 million people vaccinated as of late October, even another surge of cases in Europe won’t prompt Filipinos in Spain to decide to return to their motherland.

Last November 1, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control designated Spain as “the safest European country to visit” amid the ongoing pandemic.

With the continuing inoculation of people, coupled with anti-lockdown measures, physical distancing and mobility restrictions, “incident rates have lowered,” Labor Attaché Joan Lourdes D. Lavilla said during a news briefing last October 29.

Lavilla, who leads the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) based in Madrid, said Spain has lowered its 14-day incidents rate to 249 per 100,000 people.

SOME Filipinos are choosing to stay in Spain (despite some 5,047,156 Covid-19 cases and 87,673 deaths) due to the perks and benefits the country has in store for foreigners.

Dimaculangan said the health care system in Spain made her and her children decide to stay.

“There are still [available beds] in hospitals and in ICUs (intensive care units) just in case Spain reaches a worst-case scenario,” she said.

The Instituto Nacional de la Salud spearheads the Sanchez government’s provision of universal access to healthcare for Spanish nationals and foreign residents. The system is funded through taxes as patients are occasionally required to contribute by paying a portion of the cost of prescriptions.

And since the Philippines is a former colony of Spain, Filipinos there are given the chance to apply for permanent residency and citizenship after two years of legally staying in the country.

When the Sanchez Government ordered a lockdown on March 14, 2020, the government automatically extended permits, visas, foreign identification cards, renewals and long-term stays by foreigners.

Spain also handed out unemployment benefits to affected workers and foreigners. The move comes even after Spain’s economy shrank by 10.823 percent in 2020, World Bank data figures showed.

FILIPINO domestic worker Alma Pido Tadena said her husband continued receiving salaries, “as (what) my employer did to me.”

The continued receipt of salaries is due to a “temporary employment adjustment” scheme called “ERTE,” or the Expedientes de Regulación Temporal de Empleo. Recently extended by the Spanish government for another year as announced last October 17, ERTE pays workers around 70 percent of their regular salary.

Companies whose workers are eligible to receive ERTE also prohibited employers from firing workers. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) spotted to engage in fraud or redundancies while receiving ERTE benefits must return exemptions from contributions to the country’s social security system and risk heavy penalties.

A statement from the La Moncloa website said that at the end of October, a total of 165,624 workers were included in temporary redundancy plans. The website article said that as of December 1, with the new ERTE regulation, 125,632 ERTEs were registered, the article read.

Reportedly, the Philippine Embassy in Madrid handed over 20 euros-worth of groceries. Tadena said the salaries paid through ERTE allowed her to send money to her loved ones in the Philippines.

However, the estimated 45,498 Filipinos in Spain remitted only $52.026 million in 2020, lower than the $69.958 million in 2019.

Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) deployed to Spain in 2020 only reached 293, compared to 1,070 in 2019.

French’s pandemic aid

A THOUSAND kilometers northeast of Spain is France where Filipinos, including irregular migrants, also cited the response of Paris to the pandemic has ironed out worries.

France’s anti-Covid response is about 110 billion euros in economic support package, with an added 15 billion euros for Covid-related programs. About 20 billion euros from that budget was given as support for companies through an unemployment insurance scheme. These funds have benefited foreign workers.

The fund covers free check-up, medicines and hospitalization, plus salary support for workers affected by the closure of businesses.

“All of their medical needs, especially those who don’t have papers, are free. Check-ups, medicines and hospital bills are free,” a 48-year-old caretaker who goes by the name of Luchie said.

English tutor Sheryl, 37, said she also received not only financial aid but also skills training. These, she said, helped her “integrate with the local community, as easily as possible.”

Unemployed workers in France also received support through an insurance for the jobless. Up to 80 percent of the salary was covered by the French government through the state’s unemployment insurance agency Unédic (Union nationale interprofessionnelle pour l’emploi dans l’industrie et le commerce or the National Professional Union for Employment in Industry and Trade).

THE unemployment insurance called allocation d’aide au retour à l’emploi, or commonly known as allocation chômage.

It was this instrument that helped tide Luchie over for three months after her employer left Paris and she became jobless.

“Even if we were out of work, we receive 80 percent of our salary,” she said.

An article at the Unedic website said the unemployment benefit is calculated on the basis of a worker’s last wage. The higher the salary, the higher the allowance will be, the article written in French said.

The allowance is at least 29.56 euros per day after full-time employment. It is a maximum of 256.96 euros gross per day, the article said.

About 10.2 million laid-off employees became beneficiaries of France’s extended indemnity program through the unemployment insurance.

With the allocation chômage, some Filipino workers like Luchie didn’t experience significant changes in remittances to the Philippines.

Still, Filipinos in France remitted only $47.534 million in 2020, down by some 45.3 percent from the $86.819 million sent home in 2019.

In the first eight months of the year, Filipinos from France sent home less money: $23.03 million, compared to the $33.214 million over the same January-to-August period in 2020.

For health care, eligible individuals apply for assurance maladie offered by the French agency L’assurance Maladie.

A report by news provider Connexion France said that individuals must reside in France for at least three months to be eligible for the program. Employees who are registered in Sécurité Sociale have access to this service too.

Economically-inactive individuals are covered by the this universal healthcare program. However, they need to pay to access the service. Patients with critical illnesses are entitled to 100-percent coverage.

ACCORDING to Sheryl, while France is “almost back to normal,” the unvaccinated are getting discriminated.

Last August, people with French government-mandated health passes indicating vaccination or a recent negative-Covid result were allowed inside establishments such as restaurants, cinemas, hospitals, airplanes and trains.

Mandatory vaccinations are required for healthcare workers. By September 15—the deadline for vaccination—about 3,000 healthcare workers were suspended without pay. The move led to protests.

However, the French Health Minister Olivier Veran said the country is now experiencing a “fifth wave” of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, even with rising vaccinations.

Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed that France only accepted 230,000 new immigrants in 2020. This figure was down by 21 percent compared to entrants last year.

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), only 28 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) went to France last year, from 153 in 2019.

There are an estimated 50,000 Filipinos in France. Many of these Filipinos are found in Paris and lack official work permits.

Italy’s case

ABOUT 1,300 kilometers of France is Italy where similar wage guarantees also helped OFWs stem the pandemic’s impact on cash flows.

A wage guarantee fund provided by the Italian government to pandemic-hit workers has been credited by OFWs there as helping them survive.

The country’s unemployment insurance, called Cassa Integrazione Guadagni Ordinario (CIGO), provides 80 percent of a worker’s salary should the worker be laid off.

Liezl Joyce Callado, 33, considers herself one of those who benefited from this program. Callado, a service crew employee at a fast-food burger joint, was one of the employees who kept her job and received the 80-percent equivalent of her monthly salary during the lockdown measures imposed in Italy.

Since Callado works for a multinational firm, her field of work was not completely affected when a lockdown was implemented.

“We still survive to this day,” she said.

Apart from the unemployment insurance and her job, Callado also sells skin-care products online as she is required to work only 18 hours for four days. From her earnings she was—and still is—able to remit money to loved ones in the Philippines.

Income management

ACCORDING to Cindy Fuentes, a domestic helper in Milan, she had to manage her income more dutifully than before. Because of lockdown measures, she said she wasn’t and still could not remit regularly. She said she sends money intermittently and only when she has set aside income.

Fuentes, 42, said she works for three to four different households a week to earn money.

“I can’t work full-time now; in all seven days of the week,” she said.

Nonetheless, Fuentes said she’s grateful for having a “kind-hearted” employer who helped process her application for CIGO from which she received a thousand euros during the lockdown.

At the onset of the pandemic, the Italian government provided three sets of wage guarantee funds. CIGO applies to firms facing a temporary crisis (especially for workers in the industrial sector). Through CIGO, the Istituto Nazionale Previdenza Sociale (INPS or the National Society Security Institute) pays the worker 80 percent of the salary for 13 weeks to 14 weeks.

Second fund

A second guarantee fund, the Cassa Integrazione Guadagni Straordinaria (CIGS), covers companies under crisis or re-organization.

Industrial workers with more than 15 employees and commercial companies with more than 50 workers, are covered by CIGS. INPS pays full or partial amounts of workers’ salaries for a period of 24 months.

Finally, a Wage Integration Fund (FIS) applies to workers in case of reduction or suspension of businesses by companies employing more than five employees that do not fall under CIGO and CIGS.

The pandemic has led to a drop in deployment numbers to Italy, reaching only 2,095 in 2020 compared to the 9,444 deployed in 2019, data from the POEA revealed.

Filipinos in Italy sent less money last year at $179.367 million compared to 2019 ($217,405). As of the first eight months of this year, the $102.787 million is some 15.7-percent less from the $121.917 million sent during the same eight-month period last year, data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas revealed.

Japan

ACROSS continents, in Japan, no Filipino, be they workers of permanent residents, currently suffers from Covid-19. Some of them attribute this to the hands-on pandemic-mitigation response efforts of the Japanese government.

Since the pandemic was declared in mid-March of 2020, the Philippine embassy recorded over-500 Filipinos afflicted with SARS-CoV-2. As of October, Deputy Chief of Mission Robespierre L. Bolivar said in a November 1 radio interview from Manila, there are “zero active cases” among Filipinos.

Filipinos are even included in the free vaccination program of the government, with Japan reportedly having inoculated 71 percent of its 125.8 million people.

According to Chiesca Arcangel, whose family migrated to Japan six years ago, “Japanese people are really disciplined and hospitable as well. They follow rules properly.”

Miya Shiomoto, a Filipino-Japanese teacher in Japan, said that Covid-19 “was not extremely felt” as the Japanese government was observed to be “hands on” in handling the public health crisis. Even local tourist destinations remained open.

The Filipinos also said the Japanese government has been generous in giving its citizens cash aid, especially during the lockdowns.

According to Arcangel, those who cannot go to work were each given 100,000 yen (about P45,000).

Next time

BUT Shiomoto chided fellow Filipinos as stubborn.

News reports have reported that Japan is third among the Group-of-7 countries in terms of vaccination rate. About 70.6 percent of the country’s 127 million people, including foreign nationals, were immunized as of October 27.

Philippine Ambassador to Japan Jose C. Laurel 5th said in an online briefing last June that Japan “would like to have Filipinos as caregivers or homemakers for their aging population,” but not for the meantime.

“Let’s anticipate that once Japan opens its borders and allow the entry of foreign workers, we are ready; our workers are ready to enter Japan,” Labor Attaché Marie Rose C. Escalada has said.

Fewer hires

Even before travel ban orders were issued, overseas Filipino workers deployed to Japan took a nosedive in 2020.

Data from the POEA showed that only 10,579 new-hire and rehired OFWs were deployed to Japan in 2020. That number is 67.8-percent less than the 32,844 OFWs deployed to Japan in 2019.

Newly-hired OFWs to Japan fell to 7,261 in 2020, down from 20,456 in 2019. Furthermore, the rehired OFWs in Japan declined to 3,318 in 2020 from 12,388 in 2019, POEA data show.

Statistics from the Japanese government show the country has about 1.7 million foreign employees, with Vietnamese (443,998) leading the list, followed by Chinese (419,431) and Filipinos in third (over-283,000).

As for foreign workers, majority of Filipino workers in Japan (49.6 percent) are Technical Intern Training Program trainees. They are followed by professionals (30.3 percent), OFWs on defined activities visa (16.2 percent) and skilled workers, overseas performing artists and healthcare workers.

Filipinos in Japan remitted less in 2020 ($1.576 billion) compared to 2019 ($1.795 billion). After the first eight months of 2021, the $1.023 billion remitted by Filipinos in Japan is some 1.4-percent less than the $1.038 billion wired home during the same eight-month period last year.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The contributors are third-year students of an elective journalism course, Reporting on Global Migration, at the University of Santo Tomas. Each gave consent for use of their story on a labor-receiving country.

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