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OFWs, NGOs and recruiters call on PH to start preparing for Saudization fall-out

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The Philippine government must study and prepare for the implications of NITAQAT, a new classification system imposed by the Ministry of Labor of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to boost the number of employed Saudi nationals on more than a million overseas Filipino workers in the Kingdom.

This was the prevailing sentiment shared by recruitment agency owners, civil society groups and families of Saudi-based overseas Filipino workers during the Symposium on Saudization held at the Midas Hotel last June 23, 2011. Nearly a hundred people attended the half-day symposium convened by the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, PDP-LABAN Party and the LBS Recruitment Solutions, Inc.

“We would like to see a more pro-active approach taken by the government in explaining the NITAQAT system to our workers and their families here at home,” Susan Ople, president of Ople Center noted.

In his message to OFW families and various stakeholders, Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ezzedin Tago admitted that the Nitaqat system is complex and needs further study and scrutiny.

“Here at the Embassy, we have not yet received official information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Labor on the Nitaqat system. I have asked Labor Attaché Albert Valenciano to meet with officials of the Ministry of Labor to seek more details on the effects of Nitaqat on the employment of Filipinos here in the Kingdom, especially those who have been in the Kingdom for many years,” the Filipino diplomat said.

The Nitaqat system aims to apply 205 categories of quotas that vary based on the line of work and size of company. The state will impose a six-year cap on residency visas for expatriate workers, if their companies fall below the required quotas. Private companies are now being categorized as green, yellow and red depending on the number of Saudi workers employed. The highest category is green, meaning that the company has exceptional compliance with the Saudization program. The lowest rating is red, which basically mean the company involved has ignored the Saudization policy which, could result in the non-renewal of the residency permits of its foreign workers.

The Ministry of Labor or Saudi Arabia has declared the deadline for private companies to comply with Nitaqat on September 10, 2011.

Based on news reports, 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 youth. In 2009, some 27.4% of Saudis under the age of 30 were without work, including the 39.3% of those aged 20-24.

PDP-Laban party president Atty. Koko Pimentel said that the Philippine government has no choice but to respect the new policy of the Saudi government. “They are clearly looking out for the welfare and advancement of their own citizens. We ought to do the same by preparing a contingency plan for our own nationals that would be affected by this nationalization program.”

Responding to the concerns of OFW families in the said forum were DFA Executive Director of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Eric Endaya, POEA Director NiniLanto and OWWA Deputy Administration Josefino Torres.

OUMWA Executive Director Endaya said that Filipino workers would continue to be in great demand in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in various countries.

He also assured the families that the DFA is in touch with the Philippine Embassy and has instructed Ambassador Tago to submit its recommendations on how to protect the interests of Filipino workers in the Kingdom as the deadline for Nitaqat’s implementation nears.

OWWA Deputy Administrator Josefino Torres said that the labor department intend to further strengthen its reintegration program in response to external factors affecting its overseas workers such as the Saudization program.

Recruitment expert Lito Soriano who deploys highly skilled workers to the Saudi Arabia said that Saudi Arabia is the number one destination country of Filipino migrant workers. It is also the biggest source of dollar remittances outside of the Unites States.

“We are looking at a shrinking global job market particularly in the Middle East and less-skilled Filipino workers that can ably compete with other nationalities in securing well- paid jobs abroad,” Soriano said.