By GABRYELLE DUMALAG
MANILA — A migrant rights advocacy group has called on the Philippine government to provide due assistance to at least one million Filipinos facing threats of massive layoffs due to Saudization.
The Nitaqat or Saudization is a labor reform policy that the Kingdom of Saudi government has been implementing since the 1990s, requiring private companies to hire more Saudi nationals over migrant workers.
Last August 4, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began implementing its Saudization program in shopping malls, amid “pressure to provide more jobs for citizens amid declining oil revenues, are extending localization programs across industries that have typically relied heavily on expatriates,” according to Arab News.
This move will supposedly create 51,000 jobs for Saudi nationals. Migrante-KSA, however, said this will cause massive layoffs among overseas Filipino workers.
“Many among us have been retrenched from work, are stranded here in the KSA, and are deep in debt. Many among the more than one million OFWs in the KSA fear losing their jobs in the coming months and years. We are calling on the Philippine government to provide financial assistance and immediate repatriation,” said Marlon Gatdula, Migrante-KSA chairperson.
“The situation of OFWs in the KSA is bound to get worse if current trends continue: mass layoffs, snail-paced repatriation and non-stop cancellation of commercial flights. We are making a wake-up call to the Philippine government,” Gatdula added.
Activities and professions in cafes and restaurants are excluded as well but the rate of Saudization shall be at 50 and 40 percent, respectively. Cleaning work, loading and unloading, maintenance of recreational facilities, and barbershops are excluded from the program.
Migrante International’s chapter in Saudi Arabia said the Philippine government must ensure that OFWs who were laid off from work will receive their gratuity pay from their employers.
The government should also pay the fines of OFWs who may overstay in the country beyond the end of their visas, carry out their immediate repatriation, and provide financial assistance to them and their families.
These must be addressed as they may suffer the same predicament as those staying in temporary shelters.
“As Filipinos, and especially as workers who provided dollar remittances that have served as a lifeline for the Philippine economy, OFWs need the Philippine government’s help and support,” said Gatdula.
Create decent employment for OFWs
Migrante also urged the Duterte administration to create decent jobs with livable salaries in the Philippines. Gatdula said they have to sound the alarm as the country is facing the worst unemployment in recent history but the government has refused to take concrete actions.
The group added the affected OFWs need assistance in getting new jobs in the Philippines or in starting their own business.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has recorded an increase in the unemployment rate from 7.1 percent in March 2021 to 8.7 in April 2021.
“In the first place, OFWs were forced to leave the country because of the lack of decent jobs and of jobs in general in the country. Filipinos are some of the most sought-after employees in the world; the Covid-19 crisis should force the Philippine government to realize the need to create decent employment for us,” said Gatdula. (JJE, RVO)