Coronavirus, Covıd-19, Philippines, Jobs

Coronavirus, Covıd-19

Commentary: Worst time ever to be a overseas Filipino worker

Commentary: Worst time ever to be a overseas Filipino worker

13/9/2020 1:16:00 AM

Commentary: Worst time ever to be a overseas Filipino worker

The ongoing pandemic has made the precarity of these workers’ lives all too clear, says an observer.

VARIOUS FORMS OF INSECURITYAlthough the direct effects of these restrictions – foremost being the loss of income – may be temporary, the employment gap can generate secondary impacts that could outlast the pandemic and create various forms of insecurity.

Raffles City Shopping Centre, NTUC FairPrice on Canberra Road visited by Covid-19 cases while infectious 1 dead on track near Kallang MRT station; East-West Line train service partially suspended Person found dead at Kallang MRT, train service between Bugis and Aljunied halted

A job loss not only affects an OFW but also their family.The First Quarter 2020 Consumer Expectations Survey indicates that 94 per cent of OFW households allotted remittances to food and other household needs, 67 per cent to education, 51 per cent to medical expenses, 45 per cent to savings, 23 per cent to consumer durables and 17 per cent to debt payments.

Looming prospects for repatriation compounded with the possibility of contracting the virus is also a source of depression for OFWs.Undocumented and irregular migrants – and those who work in informal sectors – are more vulnerable to the risks of COVID-19 due to inadequate access to healthcare and already crowded living conditions. Many are entangled in poor working conditions.

READ: Commentary: Philippines’ COVID-19 fight depends on the exploitation of healthcare workersDomestic helpers from the Philippines gather with their friends at an underpass on a Sunday, the statutory day off for domestic workers, in Hong Kong's Central district. (Photo: AFP/Vivek Prakash)

Only a limited number of labour migrants from developing countries are equipped with social protection coverage as most hail from the lower bracket of society.Research shows that 23 per cent of international migrants have either legal status but no access to social protection in their host country or live as undocumented migrants with limited access to social security.

NEED FOR STRONGER SOCIAL SAFETY NETSMore explicit provisions of employment protection and social safety nets need to be offered in both migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries.Previous crisis situations – especially the Gulf War experience that resulted in the biggest repatriation of OFWs prior to COVID-19 – caused the Philippine government to craft a crisis framework.

This includes the mandated foreign employers and companies’ contingency plan for OFWs in times of crisis, repatriation assistance as enshrined in the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995, and the Joint Manual of Operations in Providing Assistance to Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos produced by various Philippine government agencies.

Body found on track near Kallang MRT station; East-West Line train service partially suspended No train services between Bugis and Aljunied MRT stations ‘due to an incident’: SMRT Work of CDCs should not be politicised, says Denise Phua after Pritam Singh's comments on their relevance

But unlike previous epidemics such as SARS, Ebola and MERS where the impact was geographically contained, the Philippine government is confronted with the formidable challenge of assisting OFWs scattered across the world.LISTEN: What next for Malaysian workers stuck there and Singapore businesses who hire them here?

RELIEF FOR COVID-HIT OFWSThe pandemic requires not only a whole-of-government approach but also of a whole-of-nation approach. It is within this ambit that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte raised the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program in his 2020 State of the Nation Address.

The Philippine government has already extended some financial assistance to displaced OFWs through the DOLE-AKAP initiative. But at US$200 per worker, this aid may prove to be insufficient in the long-term considering that the lockdown has spanned for months and prospects for employment are uncertain given the economic recession.

Other long-term means of relief – such as the Department of Labor and Employment’s Displaced/Disadvantaged Workers (TUPAD) programme – need to be maximised, as such programmes target employment generation and not merely cash assistance.Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his fourth State of the Nation Address at the Philippine Congress in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, on Jul 22, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

In migrant-receiving countries, the Commission on Human Rights has urged Philippine diplomatic missions to provide unconditional opportunities for OFWs to register their grievances, especially before they are repatriated.Policies encouraging OFWs to undergo retraining and reskilling instead of repatriation have to be promoted.

The Philippine government needs to leverage its diplomacy to attract the best deal and avoid resorting right away to providing livelihood programmes for repatriated OFWs.In better days, OFWs have been lauded for the economic boost they inject into the Philippine economy despite the social costs they endure abroad.

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Effective and swift labour migration policies and programmes could be the best demonstration of a renewed appreciation towards these worker heroes. Read more: CNA »

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