July 22, 2007
JINGGOY URGES GOV'T: "HELP 20,000 FILIPINOS
OPPOSITION stalwart Sen. Jinggoy Estrada yesterday urged Malacañang to assist Filipinos who would be affected in the United Arab Emirates' drive against illegal workers, as he also asked the Palace to assess the implications of the UAE government's "Emiratization policy."
Estrada noted reports that about 350,000 Asians, including some 20,000 Filipinos, are the subject of a June 4 UAE Labor Ministry for "irregular immigrants" to get legal work permits or leave the UAE within a three-month government amnesty offer that ends on September 2, or face up to 10 years in prison, followed by deportation.
The UAE said the irregular immigrants are those who either left their employers whom they accused of maltreating or exploiting them, are with finished job contracts but still working there, overstaying visitors, or "infiltrators" who have slipped in from neighboring countries. The oil-rich UAE has been a favorite destination of several Asians offering cheap labor.
Based on the report of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas last December 2006, it showed that there were about 311,793 Filipinos in the UAE, of which only 430 were permanent, 291,363 were temporary, and the rest (more or less numbering 20,000) were irregular immigrants.
But Gulf News reported that since June 25, more than 100 Filipinos had left Dubai under UAE's amnesty program. It added that the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Dubai had received more than 500 illegal immigrants. About 600 Filipinos left under the 2003 amnesty programme, which lasted six months.
The UAE implemented a similar campaign against "irregulars" in 2003, during which some 100,000 people were forced to leave the country.
"The government should mobilize resources to assist our affected countrymen, especially since most of those Filipinos were reportedly unable to find alternative employment here in our country, while others are still trying to pay debts to their recruitment and travel agencies," Estrada said.
On the other hand, the UAE government's Emiratization policy, implemented since the 1990s, imposes a quota system for business and economic sectors to take on a set number of Emiratis (UAE nationals) to replace foreign workers. Banks, for one, have been required to increase the number of Emiratis they employ by four percent annually, which would bring total national employees to 50 percent by end 2007.
The policy is reportedly a government bid to prevent a burgeoning expatriate workforce from taking over the leadership of key economic sectors, with the local Emirati unemployment even getting bigger. Based on figures, around 80 percent of the more than 4.1 million inhabitants of the UAE are expatriates, and, of the less than one million Emirati population, only about 10-15 percent are employed. The seven emirates are: Abu Dhabi , Dubai , Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah , Umm Al Quwain, and Ras Al Khaimah.
"We should evaluate the implications of this Emiratization policy. Is the drive against the so-called irregulars actually a part of this policy? And, what would be its immediate and long-term effects on our overseas labor situation, including the regular contract workers?" Estrada said.
Estrada chaired the Senate committee on labor during the 13th Congress.
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