Crisis, policies blamed for 2010 deployment drop

By Jeremaiah M. Opiniano
OFW Journalism Consortium

MANILA–A labor official forecasts a 3-percent drop in deployment of overseas Filipino workers last year, blaming a nugatory policy on departure in the country’s major airports as one of the causes.

A recruiter, however, said this is due to employers, especially in Middle East countries, who maintained a low-pay structure amid fresh supply from other labor markets whose workers are willing to get paid less than what Filipinos receive.

“The available (stock) of qualified Filipinos has gone down,” Lito Soriano of LBS e-Recruitment Services told the OFW Journalism Consortium.

Soriano cited his company as failing to fill up requests by Middle East employers for qualified nurses.

Other migrant-sending countries now pose a threat, Soriano added, citing Pakistan and India that he estimates to have a bigger pool of skilled workers and professionals.

This is even if these countries have a less-structured overseas recruitment sector compared to the Philippines’s over-30 year-old overseas labor export industry.

Mia Alvarez, chief of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s (POEA) planning branch, said not all valid job orders are filled up and recruitment agencies had a harder time filling up vacancies in 2010.

Monthly data by the POEA on deployment of land- and sea-based workers covering January to September 2010 shows that 1,079,221 OFWs were deployed. This is 3-percent lower than the 1,112,840 OFWs deployed during the same nine-month period in 2009.

Deployment of land-based workers deployed dropped 3.2 percent to 28,000 while deployed seafarers dropped by 2.2 percent or roughly 4,000.

June 2010 was a telling month for deployment of OFWs [see Table 2]. Year-on-year (June 2010 versus June 2009) totals of deployed new-hire and re-hire land-based OFWs dropped by 43 percent. New-hire OFW deployment plunged by 49 percent; re-hired OFW deployment dropped by 41 percent; and, seafarer deployment sank by 52 percent in June, the traditional opening of schools in the Philippines.

From June to September 2010, the cumulative total of land- and sea-based OFWs deployed has been negative year-on-year. Deployed new-hire OFWs have had negative monthly growth rates from January to July.

When 2010 data are complete, the projection is a 3-percent drop, Alvarez said.

Flight delays

POEA Labor Assistance Counter chief Carlos Cañaberal pointed to the three-to-four-month delay in recording and verifying overseas employment certificates (OECs) as having exacerbated the drop in deployment of Filipino workers overseas.

Cañaberal explained that since the function of validating OECs was removed from his unit in March 2008, they had to “borrow” these documents from the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) and encode into POEA’s computerized system.

In the old LAC set up, new-hire OFWs, seafarers, and returning overseas workers (or the Balik Manggagawa) pass by the LAC for real-time data capture that, for 15-to-20 seconds, already validates the authenticity of the OFWs’ work and travel documents, Cañaberal said.

Prior to March 24, 2008, the LACs check OFWs’ documents against POEA’s electronic records before the worker goes to avail of an exemption of the P750 terminal fee, and pass by immigration.

But for nearly three years, an additional bureaucratic layer slowed down the processing of departing workers’ travel documents.

Cañaberal added that when immigration authorities clamped down on OFWs suspected of carrying illegal travel documents, workers were not allowed to depart until such time they produce papers validated by the POEA.

With an estimated total of 3,000-to-5,000 OECs a day that terminal fee counters receive (especially in NAIA terminal 1), Cañaberal said the LAC faced a difficult time validating documents.

Cañaberal and Alvarez are not ruling out the possibility some of the workers were twice counted as having left for work overseas.

Hence, they surmise the drop in deployment figures could be bigger as there is an absence of a study on the impact of the removal of the LAC’s validation function.

Flight to quality

External conditions affecting Filipino workers also contributed to the drop of OFW deployment last year, according to Alvarez.

She reports that Middle East countries with government-funded construction projects have either ended these projects in 2010 or have postponed their completion due to economic reasons.

This is even tied to these countries’ development plans, which cover five years (such as those by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), Alvarez said.

Economist Alvin Ang of the University of Santo Tomas added the drop in deployment may be due to a principle in investment called “flight to quality,” explaining foreign employers’ preference for other nationals than Filipinos.

“Flight to quality” sees investors switching their investments to less risky placements; in the case of labor migration, Ang says foreign employers prefer low-paying workers, even with “less quality” —thus lessening the risk of not having a migrant worker.

Since Filipino workers abroad cut across “all types of skills and jobs,” plus the Philippine government mandates employers and host countries to protect these workers, Ang thinks OFWs “have become expensive” for foreign employers to afford.

The amended Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 (Republic Act 10022) requires government to certify countries deemed to be safe to OFWs and required also recruitment agencies to pay OFWs’ insurance through accredited insurance providers.

Recruiters like Soriano have voiced their complaints to these provisions, though their implementation is just weeks old.
OFW Journalism Consortium

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