When Saudi Arabia begins turning away migrant laborers, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) can turn to Australia and Canada for employment, the Philippine labor chief said Thursday.
In an interview with GMA News Online, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said the government is now exploring to take advantage of the “labor shortage” in Australia and Canada.
The Philippine labor attachés in those countries are currently in talks with some officials there to “match the labor demand with labor supply,” she said.
The labor chief cited the pressing labor demand for mining- and construction-related jobs in Australia, whose economy has been partly buoyed by minerals and energy in the forms of liquefied natural gas and coal.
Moreover, Canada’s economic growth being reliant on its abundance of natural resources will usher in employment related to oil drilling and exploration, Baldoz added.
Filipino workers who want to work in those two countries may only need to satisfy the International English Language Testing System requirement.
She made this remark as the implementation of a new labor policy in Saudi Arabia looms. The Saudi policy — known as Nitaqat — aims to prioritize employment for Saudi nationals over foreign workers in Saudi-owned firms.
The “Saudization” program became more urgent in the eyes of the Saudi government in light of the sharp rise in the incidence of joblessness among the youth. In 2009, records showed, 27 percent of Saudis under 30 were without work.
The “Saudization” program, which excludes coverage for household service workers, will be implemented starting Sept. 10.
Pinoy maids banned
But on Thursday, the Saudi government showed that it stood firm on its policy against migrant workers. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labor said it will no longer issue visas for domestic helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia.
Such a decision may impact nearly180,000 maids in the Kingdom, or about 15 percent of more than 1.2 million Filipinos working there.
As a result, Baldoz said the Department of Labor and Employment will encourage affected OFWs to go for the “government’s alternative livelihood packages” back home.
She said the Aquino administration has already released some P27 million for Filipino domestic helpers.
“As the door closes [against] them in Saudi Arabia, we encourage them to engage in business such as food processing, garments, beauty shops or computer shops,” she said.
Saudi Arabia decided to stop hiring house helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia after the two countries imposed stricter conditions on prospective Saudi employers.
New contracts made by the Philippines require foreign employers of Filipino domestic helpers to pay a minimum wage of $400 a month.
The Philippine government also urged employers to provide family information and the layout of the residence where the domestic helper will be working.
The Arab News said in one of its reports that the Saudi government wanted the Philippine government to alter these requirements in the labor contracts of Filipino domestic workers.
Clarifying with Saudi Arabia
At a news conference in Malacañang Thursday, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said it will ask clarification from Saudi Arabia about its ban on hiring Filipino maids.
He said the Labor Department will be sending a labor attaché to Saudi Arabia to “verify these things.”
Manila is concerned that the ban could affect the Philippine economy, with a fifth of its workforce jobless or looking for additional work.
“There are other countries that would be ready to absorb those that cannot be accommodated by Saudi Arabia,” Lacierda said.
Saudi Arabia is one of the top destination countries of Filipino migrant workers and the biggest source of dollar remittances outside the United States, according to recruitment expert Loreto Soriano.
As of 2009, Saudi Arabia contributed 52 percent to the Middle East deployment and nearly 30 percent to worldwide deployment of Filipino workers, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. — MRT/VS, GMA News