Migrante Middle East projects that under the Saudization Nitaqat scheme, some 30 percent of the 1.2 M Filipinos in Saudi Arabia or around 360,000 OFWs would be affected.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — For the past decades, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has become the Filipino’s prime destination when looking for work abroad. Despite the numerous cases of contract substitution and abuses, many Filipinos continue to risk their fate, hoping that they would be “lucky enough” to earn for their family’s needs.
Their hard-earned income, termed as “Katas ng Saudi,” has become a household term for most Filipinos who have been working abroad. This, however, is now being threatened by attempts of the Saudi government to appease its”disgruntled citizens who are demanding for political and economic reforms.” There are about 500,000 unemployed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and it is beset by a yearly unemployment rate ranging from 5 to 7 percent despite its seemingly stable economy.
The Saudi government, according to Migrante Middle East, an overseas Filipino workers group, has sent a verbal note to Philippine embassy officials through its labor post in Riyadh sometime in March. The note, according to Migrante, was meant to inform Philippine officials of the Saudi government’s intention to “temporarily put a halt to the processing and verification of Filipino domestic workers.” This is supposedly the Saudi labor ministry and the Saudi National Recruitment Committee’s reaction to the additional requirements being imposed by the Philippine labor office in Riyadh, such as the setting of a minimum $400 salary and the submission of a detailed sketch of the employer’s house.
Then, on June 30, a labor ministry official announced that starting July 1, the Saudi government would stop hiring domestic helpers from the country and from Indonesia. This would affect some 25,000 to 35,000 Filipinos wanting to work in Saudi as domestic helper.
But soon, the labor ministry announced that more migrant workers would be affected. Around mid-May, the Saudi government said, they would be implementing the “Nitaqat scheme,” where companies would be categorized in accordance with their “Saudization” policy.
In a statement, Migrante Middle East said the “Saudization” policy is a “labor reform policy implemented by the Saudi government since 1990 that requires private companies to allot at least 10 percent of its workforce to Saudi nationals.” Under the Nitaqat scheme, however, it is expected that private companies would hire more Saudi locals . The assessment for each company would be color coded: green means it complies with the policy, yellow means Saudi nationals comprise less than 10 percent of the workforce, and red indicates that the company does not employ Saudi citizens at all.
“According to the ‘Nitaqat’ scheme, if a company, especially those in the ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ categories, fails to hire more Saudi locals to comply with the 10 percent minimum requirement by September,the work permits of expatriate workers who have been working with the company for more than 6 years will not be renewed and in effect will be terminated,” Monterona said.
Migrante Middle East projects that under the Saudization Nitaqat scheme, some 30 percent of the 1.2-M Filipinos in Saudi Arabia or around 360,000 OFWs would be affected.
Monterona said “Filipino banks executives working in major cities in Saudi Arabia expressed their worries as foreign banks have already cut the numbers of their foreign workers by 1/3.” He added “a consultancy firm that employs Filipino engineers was told by its client to reduce its expatriates staff,” which resulted to the termination of 18 migrant workers, 12 of whom are Filipinos.
Unskilled workers such as factory and farm workers were also not spared. On June 25, 2011, the Saudi labor minister was quoted in a local news paper saying that they have intentions of phasing out unskilled foreign workers.
“An OFW-engineer who works for a contracting company in Jeddah, sent me a copy of the termination letter he received from the company along with two Lebanese co-workers dated June 29. They were given one month notice,” Monterona said. Worse, he added, the OFW, who requested not to be named, said that he has not yet received his salary from April to June 2011. He also have not yet completed his two-year contract.
Monterona said termination notices usually provide explanations on the basis of the termination of the worker.
The OFW Journalism, meanwhile, reported that there is a slowdown in the deployment of Filipinos to Saudi Arabia. The report said the deployment rate in 2010 is 5.75 percent less than in 2009, or a drop from 126,661 to 119,379.
In a GMAnews.tv report, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s Carlos Cao downplayed the effects of”Saudization,” saying that it has no impact yet on the deployment of OFWs. He added that it “will not be implemented ‘drastically’ and ‘on a full scale.'”
“If they move on a full-scale implementation, how can they send home the big number of migrant workers there?” Cao said in the report. He said the Saudization policy is “a complex and complicated policy,” which will be implemented in a “gradual and calibrated” manner.
As for Filipino workers who are taking their vacation, Filipino Migrant Workers Group chairman Francisco Aguilar Jr. advised them, instead, to “‘check the status of their company’ and prepare to return to the Philippines.”
So far, what the government has planned is to find “other possible market destinations such as Guam, Australia and Canada.”
“What bothers us is that why does it seem to be a mere numbers game in the eyes of the government?” Gina Esguerra, secretary general of Migrante International, said, “Be it a mere 10, 100 or 1,000 affected OFWs, it should still be a cause for concern for the government.”
Esguerra said in a statement, the government does not count Saudization as a problem and that there is no reason to worry about it when we have an our economy that is so dependent on labor-export and the influx of OFW remittances.
Migrante International said the Aquino administration should decisively deviate from its labor export policy and instead focus on creating decent and sustainable local jobs to end the cycle of forced migration.
Monterona, for his part, challenges the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III to immediately craft safety nets for those who would be displaced by the Saudization policy. This is a better step, he said, than remain in a “state of denial” on the looming effects of Saudization and the ban of domestic helpers in Saudi.
The Department of Labor and Employment, for its part, has recently announced that there are around 54,000 local jobs available. But, Monterona said, the announcement is “merely a scapegoat to appease the worries of those displaced and the growing number of unemployed Filipinos,” he said, “The truth is these so called available jobs, if indeed existing, could not even be enough for the expected number of OFWs that would be displaced because of Saudization and the banning of domestic workers.”
“We are expecting these numbers to increase in the coming days as the direct effect of Saudization’s Nitaqat (localization of labor) scheme,” Monterona said, adding that their intention is not merely to alarm the Filipino community, especially those who would be taking their vacation, but rather to call on the Aquino government to prepare.
As for assistance, Monterona said, ‘Sagip Migrante’ hotlines in Saudi Arabia are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Here are the contact details: 00966 564 978 012 and 00966 535921228.
Esguerra said Migrante chapters around the world will hold simultaneous protest actions on the event of Aquino’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA) to present their own State of Migrants Under Aquino.