Some 1.23 million semiskilled or low-skilled overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) could lose their jobs should the price of oil in the world market continues to fall,
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) officials told the House of Representatives.

The House Committee on Overseas Welfare Affairs, headed by  Trade Union Congress of the Philippines Rep. Raymond Democrito C. Mendoza, quoting Labor Undersecretary Nicon F. Fameronag, said 1.23 million OFWs might be displaced should conditions at the oil industry in the Middle East worsen.

However, the committee, in a statement, said no massive displacement of OFWs is happening in the Middle East for now.

Of the 196 returning OFWs from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East early this year, only eight have been displaced due to falling oil prices in the world market.

Lawyer Francisco Noel R. Fernandez III of the Department of Foreign Affairs Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs (DFA-OUMWA) also told the committee OFW conditions in the Middle East are not critical at this point.

Mendoza gave assurance the committee is looking into government plans and programs to help the returning OFWs remain productive upon their return to the Philippines.

Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac assured the committee the government is closely monitoring the situation in the Middle East and that government programs are in place to look after the welfare of OFWs in those countries.

“Returning OFWs may avail themselves of the DOLE’s Assist-WELL Program,  a component of them National Reintegration Program for OFWs, which provides welfare, employment, livelihood and legal assistance to the repatriates,” Cacdac said.

The DOLE’s Assist-WELL Program is a package of reintegration assistance/services to address the welfare, employment, legal and livelihood needs of repatriated workers.  Earlier, Dignidad, a newly established coalition of grassroots organizations and civil-society groups, said the possible displacement of million of workers in the Middle East highlights the need for the government to embark on a national employment program.

Wilson Fortaleza of Partido Manggagawa and a working group member of Dignidad said a national employment program is needed to absorb the returning OFWs and provide opportunities for the big number of unemployed people to find gainful and decent work in the country.

“Investment-led employment and self-help livelihood programs facilitated by the government during the past decades have fallen short in addressing the country’s chronic unemployment problem. Hence, a must-do option to ensure employment for all is for the government to institutionalize a national public-employment program,” Fortaleza said.

Fortaleza, also a coconvener of Kampanya para sa Makataong Pamumuhay, said the government’s employment program centers not on the creation but on job facilitation done under the Public Employment Services Office and seasonal job fairs initiated by the DOLE and the private sector.

Also, economist Calixto Chikiamco warned that oil prices and political turmoil have affected the economies of countries hosting OFWs.  “One of the growth drivers is remittances, but there are political uncertainties in the Middle East and, of course, oil prices have gone down. So the economies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, are severely challenged. They might [start)]sending OFWs home,” he said. Saudi Arabia, for one, has reported cuts in its budget because of the collapse in crude prices, as 75 percent of its revenue comes from oil.

Nationalist People’s Coalition Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian of Valenzuela called on President Aquino to immediately sign the proposed Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Act amid the expected mass retrenchment of OFWs in the Middle East.

“There is no excuse for delay. The immediate signing of the proposed law will ensure that the OWWA Fund will be used solely for the welfare of OFWs and their families with the looming mass retrenchment of workers in the Middle East,” said Gatchalian, a majority member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Gatchalian added that the reintegration is exactly the kind of service that jobless OFWs will need from the government in this time of crisis. Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz has said her agency has sufficient funds for repatriation and other kinds of aid for OFWs who will lose their jobs and have no recourse but to return to the country.