x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Filipino workers to get money lessons

Filipino migrant workers in the UAE will benefit from a financial literacy training programme being supported by the UAE and the Philippines.

ABU DHABI // A new financial literacy programme aims to prevent Filipino workers in the UAE from falling into debt.

The joint programme by the UAE and the Philippines hopes to reduce the number of migrant workers who move to the UAE to make money, but end up in jail because of debt-related charges.

"I am saddened that people work overseas to earn money but end up in debt," said Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE.

"Financial literacy training would be a concrete intervention to minimise this important issue."

The UAE branch of Migrante, a group created to protect the rights and welfare of Filipinos overseas, says it receives between six and seven calls a day from Filipinos in the UAE with huge amounts of bank loans and credit card debt.

"The majority of them owe between Dh20,000 and Dh50,000," Nhel Morona, the secretary-general for Migrante-UAE, said. "Many claimed they were unable to keep up with their credit card payments due to delayed salaries and salary cuts."

Credit cards were behind the majority of expatriate cases, according to a report released by Orion Analytics, a financial data analysis firm, in May.

According to the report, Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos were the leading communities when it came to people skipping their debts. It showed that 30 per cent of expatriates who left the country because of debt in 2004 owed money on credit cards, a figure that rose to 66 per cent by the third quarter of last year.

A UAE Government ministry, the Philippine Embassy and other government agencies in Manila are now preparing for a two-day event called "Training of Trainers on Financial Literacy and Addressing Family Issues" .

"It will be done on a weekend in the first quarter of next year, and funds might come in from the UAE side," Ms Princesa said.

"The UAE recognises the importance of reintegration among migrant workers," she said. "There are positive developments regarding the UAE's role in ensuring the successful implementation of this project."

The training will be conducted by representatives from Atikha, a nongovernmental organisation in the Philippines that provides economic and social services to overseas Filipino workers and their families in the Philippines.

Atikha aims to help address the perceived social cost of migration and provides training to both migrants and their families in the Philippines. It believes that the social preparation of the families and the community is important for an effective reintegration programme for migrant workers.

Ms Princesa agreed that families should also undergo financial literacy training to prevent dependency and consumerist attitudes among migrants' dependents.

"Atikha piloted this project in Italy last year and they were successful in implementing it with communities of migrant families in San Pablo City in Laguna and Mabini in Batangas," she said. "Filipinos do not have a high savings rate but saving habits can be learnt."

Atikha's research in 2001 shows that most overseas Filipino workers have no significant savings, despite years of work abroad, and many of them are caught in the debt trap.

The Philippine Embassy has established that the second highest number of cases among Filipinos in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain jails involve debt-related charges.

About 600,000 Filipinos live and work in the Emirates, accounting for 12 per cent of the country's population, according to the 2008 estimate of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas in Manila.

rruiz@thenational.ae