With thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) forced to return home due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Senator Risa Hontiveros today urged government to establish a reintegration plan to help provide decent employment or other means of livelihood to OFWs who will not be able to return to their work abroad.
“Hindi dapat pabayaan ng pamahalaan ang libo-libo nating kababayang OFW na biglang pinauwi sa bansa at ngayon ay nasa alanganin ang kabuhayan. Government by now must have a comprehensive reintegration plan in place to assist OFWs who unfortunately, may no longer be able to resume their jobs overseas even after the pandemic eases,” she said.
Hontiveros made her call after the National Task Force for COVID-19 recently confirmed that around 42,000 OFWs are set to return to the Philippines for the months of May and June, on top of the 27,000 overseas workers who have arrived in recent months. According to Hontiveros, government aid to all displaced OFWs should not be limited to medical services, food and lodging for their mandatory 14-day quarantine, and should include livelihood and employment assistance to connect workers with alternative means of providing for their families.
“The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Department of Foreign Affairs, and agencies like the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) must double their efforts to ensure the speedy return of OFWs to their jobs abroad, now that more countries are beginning to ease their lockdown protocols. However for those who will not be able to go back, we should have a reintegration program that will bridge OFWs to locally-available jobs or forms of livelihood that not only match their skills or competencies, but also offer decent income,” she said.
Relevant agencies, Hontiveros added, must also offer retraining programs to enable displaced OFWs, particularly those with specified skill wsets such as seafarers, to learn new trades or professions in agri-business or other promising industries: “Hindi man makabalik ang ilang kababayan natin sa kanilang trahabo sa ibang bansa, kung may ganitong skills-building at livelihood programs ay madali silang makahanap ng ibang paraan ng trabaho o negosyo para tuloy-tuloy lang ang kanilang kita.”
In the meantime, the senator said government should extend and widen the distribution of financial aid to displaced OFWs under the DOLE-AKAP and the Balik-Manggagawa assistance programs. “It is undeniable that many OFWs, including those who lost their jobs but are stuck overseas, continue to need financial assistance to feed their families. Instead of stopping these programs, we should even upgrade them in anticipation of the many more OFWs set to return home in the weeks to come,” she said.
Hontiveros warned that if government fails to implement the necessary reintegration programs and services, the sheer number of unemployed OFWs in the future will create a “full-blown labor crisis” that will complicate the nation’s recovery from the pandemic. Citing a recent paper from the Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development, she said that as much as 300,000 to 400,000 OFWs may eventually lose their jobs or suffer from pay cuts due to the pandemic if government does not take decisive action.
“Kailangan maging handa tayo sa napipintong problema na ito. Sa dami ng naitulong ng ating mga OFW sa pamahalaan at sa ekonomiya sa mga nakalipas na dekada, dapat lang na tulungan natin sila ngayong ang mga “modern-day heroes” naman ang humaharap sa napakalaking pagsubok,” she concluded.