x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Alternatives a must for Filipino workers

Plans by the Philippines government to scale back the migration of domestic workers has serious implications for that country, and for this one.

Almost 10 per cent of the 95 million citizens of the Philippines are spread across the world, and most of them send money home each month. In 2011, the World Bank says, remittances exceeded $22.9 billion (Dh84bn) - an amount equal to 10 per cent of the country's whole economy.

So it is surprising that the government there is considering a plan to greatly reduce the flow of domestic workers, who make up at least 10 per cent of the Filipino diaspora, by 2017.

Legal questions about liberty of travel and employment are best left to the courts of the Philippines. But the "phase-out" proposal demands attention here, too, because it could have significant repercussions in many UAE households. More than 600,000 Filipinos work in this country, about 130,000 of them, according to Philippine government figures which may be incomplete, as "household service workers".

Within the Philippines, the pressure to cut back on the export of domestic staff has both positive and negative sources. The main positive factor is the booming Filipino economy, and the growing belief that many skilled and semi-skilled women now working as domestics overseas could be better employed in more challenging fields at home.

The top negative concerns are the social costs of exporting labour in such quantities, and the poor treatment some maids and nannies encounter in various countries. Construction labourers, for example, may endure trying conditions but at least have the solace of working and living together, but domestic workers are often alone, and vulnerable.

For the Philippines' government to do what it can to protect its citizens abroad - by monitoring workers rights laws and their application in host states, for example - is only sensible. Since many abuses begin with unscrupulous recruiting agencies in that country, the issue is mainly one for them. But we can't see the wisdom in choking off a whole category of overseas employment opportunities unless domestic alternatives exist.

The plan is still "just in the conceptual framework and development stage", Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) head Hans Leo Cacdac told the Daily Inquirer newspaper. That's good, because there are more pressing issues. Modernising the economy, streamlining the bureaucracy, and bolstering the school system would do more than arbitrary rules.