At least 200,000 of the 300,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) affected by the coronavirus pandemic, stranded in different parts of the globe, and expected to be repatriated don’t want to go back home, according to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.
In a televised press briefing Tuesday, Bello said some OFWs insist on staying in their host countries because they claimed that jobs are not available for them in the Philippines.
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“We are trying to convince them to return, but majority of them prefer to stay in their host country despite lockdowns imposed by governments abroad,” he said.
The labor chief said they received reports that majority of the OFWs who lost their jobs due to the pandemic are in Hong Kong, the Middle East, Macau, Singapore, and Europe—mostly domestic helpers, factory and construction workers.
Bello said the 300,000 OFWs affected by the pandemic include those who were displaced, stranded, or infected by the COVID-19 disease.
However, the Labor chief assured returning OFWs they may find re-employment under various government measures, such as the Build, Build, Build program, while the DOLE will provide livelihood programs to other affected OFWs.
OFWs who have experienced job displacement due to the receiving country’s imposition of lockdown or community quarantine or having been infected by the disease will receive cash assistance, he added.
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To receive the cash aid, “they must be still at overseas jobsites, or in the Philippines as Balik-Manggagawa, or already repatriated to the Philippines, and must not receive any financial support/assistance from the receiving countries/employers,” Bello said.
OFWs coming from priority countries/territories will be given financial assistance, he added.
“The Department shall provide financial assistance to qualified OFWs from countries with Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) presence and/or are heavily affected by COVID-19,” Bello said.
An estimated 12 million Filipinos work abroad. In 2019, they sent home up to $35.1 billion (P1.76 trillion) in remittances, accounting for just under 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product in 2019, according to the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
Previously, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año said the government expects some 300,000 OFWs to return to the country this year as their host countries—under lockdowns because of the COVID-19 pandemic—send migrant workers home.
“For the whole year, we are expecting that 300,000 OFWs will come home,” Año said. “The whole world is under lockdown. They are sending home migrant workers, not just from the Philippines, but other countries, too. This is our chance to show the importance of OFWs when they get home.”
But repatriated workers so far have not fared well, spending up to two months in isolation centers in the Philippines, rather than the required 14 days because of delays in their COVID-19 testing.
READ: DFA says 31k OFWs returned since virus hit
Since April 13, returning OFWs have been required to undergo mandatory quarantine inside government facilities, meaning hotels and other accommodations accredited by the Department of Tourism. Since April 27, returning OFWs were required to undergo reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests for the coronavirus.
Since May 6, the government has identified the need to prioritize testing for some 20,000 quarantined OFWs. Nearly three weeks later, thousands remain in quarantine.
If unresolved, the problem figures to worsen through June, when some 40,000 more OFWs are expected to return. Secretary Carlito Galvez, who heads the national task force on COVID-19 response, has said this could overwhelm the country's current quarantine facilities.
Recruitment and migration consultant Emmanuel Geslani expressed concern that the government may not be able to provide jobs to returning OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, since the fund allotted for displaced workers is only P1.5 billion.
Geslani said the continuous lockdown of the Middle East countries, Japan and some countries in Europe will greatly contribute to massive losses in OFW deployment for this year and until 2021.
“With the continuing lockdown of our main markets in the Middle East and the huge number of displaced workers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait UAE and Qatar our main labor markets, around 100,000 OFWs have been affected the pandemic with many of their jobs lost through closure of establishments,” he said.
He said that seafarers who have returned to the country now number 30,000 and more 40,000 are expected in the month of June with charter flights and cruise liners sailing to the country.
“Expected losses in the sea-based sector is at 100,000 [jobs], which includes cruise ship crews, general cargo, containers ships and oil-rigs support vessels,” Geslani said.
He said cruise lines are not expected to sail until September or October in 2020, thus Filipino seafarers will wait until that time if they are recalled. Operations will start slowly with only a few of the estimated 200 cruise ships sailing all over the world.
The DOLE command center in Manila recorded a total of 98,615 stranded workers as of May 29, citing reports from POLOs in 40 foreign posts.
Of the total stranded OFWs, 83,483 are in the Middle East, 12,050 are in Europe and America, and 3,082 in Asia.
Most OFWs from the Middle East are land-based, totaling 83,380, while those in Europe-Americas are mostly sea-based workers numbering 11,372. In Asia, 2,110 are land-based workers.
Of the total stranded OFWs, about 19,631 have unfinished contracts or are distressed and need repatriation in the coming weeks.
The POLOs have so far recorded the repatriation of 36,625 OFWs since the outbreak of the global pandemic.