Press Release
July 8, 2011

Jinggoy urges gov't to fight tooth and nail to keep OFW jobs in Saudi; stresses complementary measures for local employment

Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada yesterday urged the government to fight tooth and nail to keep jobs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as in other destination countries available to Filipino workers, and at the same time to strengthen industries in the country to be able to boost and expand local employment.

"Our government should exert all efforts to provide overseas jobs, as well as local employment, to our countrymen," Estrada, concurrent chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development and the Congressional Oversight Committee on Labor and Employment (COCLE), underscored.

The Senator aired the call, especially to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) amid the KSA government's decision to strictly implement "Saudization," or policy on prioritizing employment for their nationals over foreign workers in Saudi-owned firms, as well as its "freeze hiring" on household service workers (HSWs) from the Philippines, among other countries.

"Saudization" aims to provide wider job opportunities for Saudi nationals after an observed sharp rise in the incidence of joblessness among KSA citizens especially the youth. On the other hand, KSA's freeze hiring of household service workers (HSWs) allegedly stemmed from, among others, the Philippine government's insistence on higher wages and better benefits, working conditions and protection for Filipino domestic workers.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the countries in Middle East which the Philippines have yet to sign a bilateral labor agreement. The Philippines already has bilateral labor agreement with Qatar and United Arab Emirates. "Our government now faces a quandary between struggling to ensure gainful, overseas employment for Filipinos, and upholding their labor and human rights while working abroad," Sen. Estrada said, adding: "Bargaining for higher wages and better benefits is a double-edged sword. While it promotes Filipino workers' interests, it endangers the Philippines' niche in the Saudi labor market, just like what happens today."

He stressed, "The question now is whether we can let go of that captured, valuable niche in the labor market overseas considering the millions of unemployed and underemployed Filipinos in the country, without abandoning the government's duty of pushing for better working conditions for our kababayans abroad."

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains the top destination for land-based workers since 2003, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). In 2009 alone, 291,419 migrant workers were hired in the Saudi. Meanwhile, records from the DFA showed that there were 1,856,241 Filipino workers in the Kingdom as of 2010.

Recent reports show that there are more than 18,000 HSWs in Saudi Arabia, while around 7,000 more Filipinos set to work there were not able to leave the country because of the freeze hiring policy. DOLE estimates that up to 140,000 OFWs could lose their jobs because of the Saudi twin labor policies.

Sen. Estrada, who is currently in the USA where he took up a Harvard University leadership course, said the Philippine government, through the DFA and the DoLE, should work for maintained job availability for Filipinos even within the Saudization policy, and renegotiate Saudi's freeze hiring policy on HSWs.

Meanwhile, Estrada said, the government should explore all avenues to strengthen industries in the country through incentives and other support measures to enable these industries to provide strategic employment to Filipinos.

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