From May 2020 until November last year, the Philippines has repatriated a total of 803,521 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) displaced from their jobs abroad by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government has allocated billions of pesos to bankroll the flights back home, the quarantine, and the travel to the respective regions of the jobless OFW. Livelihood assistance, as a stop-gap measure, has also been provided.
Sadly, the repatriations are continuing to this day, either still due to Covid or to belt-tightening measures being implemented by some countries like limiting their job pools to locals.
So far, Covid-19 has wiped out nearly 50 percent of pre-pandemic OFW jobs, which stood at 2.2 million in 2019 according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
PSA’s 2019 Survey on Overseas Filipinos, covering the period April to September, showed that 96.8 percent of those 2.2 million jobs were backed by solid, renewable contracts.
Those glowing figures in 2019 affirmed the Philippines’ standing among member-nations of the International Labor Organization (ILO) as a top, global labor-sending country.
Alas! Covid-19 has changed all that, decimating OFW jobs and billions in OFW remittances in 2020 and 2021 — remittances that in 2019 stood at a whopping P211.9 billion.
The good news is that traditional OFW markets severely affected by the pandemic-induced repatriations are slowly bouncing back as more economies open, albeit with aggressive protocols to combat the spread of Covid’s highly transmissible Omicron strain.
Take the case of the Taiwan market for expat workers which the pandemic closed in May 2021, but which briefly reopened for two weeks in December, with the hope of full reopening by the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations next month.
With many other countries like Indonesia and Thailand angling to send anew their workers to Taiwan, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) has been doing the spadework in Taiwan and back in the Philippines, so the 5,000-or-so OFW are not jostled out of those jobs.
MECO Chairman and Resident Representative Wilfredo Fernandez has recently met with Taiwan’s Labor Minister Hsu Ming-Chun to smoothen the redeployment of Filipino workers in the territory.
In his meeting with Hsu, Fernandez took the opportunity to also ask the Taiwan Ministry of Labor to consider raising the minimum pay of Filipino household service workers so they’d be at par with their factory-worker counterparts.
Likewise, as early as November, MECO already gave Malacañang a heads-up on the Taiwan market reopening, with a plea that government ensures that workers are not forced to pay for the pandemic-related cost of their deployment like getting tested for Covid-19 before flying in.
As it turned out, recruiters and manpower agencies based in the Philippines wanted the OFW they are deploying to Taiwan to pay for the RT-PCR test even if the latter already pay the recruiters as much as P200,000 in placement fee each — a sum which Fernandez dubbed “criminal.”
As communicated by Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) chief Bernard Olalia to Fernandez, the POEA’s memorandum circular (MC) 01-2021 issued in January last year already mandated recruiters to shoulder the cost of the RT-PCR tests.
Thus, there should be no elbow room whatsoever in recruiters not following the provisions of MC 01-2021. Those placement agencies that do not want to toe the line just have to get out of the recruitment business.
Or maybe the POEA should wield the stick as it cannot allow any recruiter to force workers bound for Taiwan to sign promissory notes covering the cost of the Covid test. That has always been the problem with the recruitment sector even before this pandemic.
Some manpower agencies, while accredited by the POEA, operate like illegal recruiters that it’s a wonder POEA presently only has five agencies with canceled licenses and five others under suspension. There should be way more than just those 10.
What we’re hearing is that a lobby group is hard at work pressuring government to withdraw MC 01-2021 and that it had the gall of using “pseudo-OFW” groups as talking heads.
Why would real OFW say such things that are not only against their interest but would also feed the greed of those who have made them their milking cows for decades?