Tag archive for "remittances"

PESO SEEN TO HIT 37.50:$1 THIS YEAR

Migration

PESO SEEN TO HIT 37.50:$1 THIS YEAR

No Comments 25 February 2011

British banking giant Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC) sees the peso strengthening to 37.50 against the dollar this year and further to 35.50 to $1 next year as the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is likely allow the local currency to appreciate further to cushion the impact of imported inflation brought about by rising global oil and food prices.

“We believe the peso will end the year at 37.50 per dollar. By 2012, it will be 35.50 per dollar. The growth in the Philippines is strong, and the foreign exchange should reflect that,” visiting HSBC economist Frederic Neumann said at a press briefing last Feb. 16 in Manila.

The Hong Kong-based economist sees the peso appreciating steadily at P40.50 to $1 in the first quarter, 39.50 in the second, 38.50 in the third, and P37.50 in the fourth quarter of this year.

Sen. Ralph Recto foresees and even stronger peso at less than P35to the dollar this year once the central bank raises its key policy rates from record lows to tame inflation. The BSP has kept its key policy rates unchanged since July 2009 and will review them when the policy-setting Monetary Board meets in March.

What is good about a stronger peso, Recto said, is that it could offset the impact of higher fuel prices as social and political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa disrupt oil supplies and will likely continue in the coming weeks. A rise in fuel prices will spur inflation higher, he said.

“In layman’s terms, when peso is strong, there would be fewer pesos needed to import fuel which we pay in dollars, and this should trigger similar downtrend in prices of fuel and food,” Recto explained.

eumann explained that strong capital inflows to emerging markets including the Philippines as well as the robust remittances from overseas Filipinos would continue to support the local currency.

Latest data show that the country’s gross international reserves (GIR) surged 36.8 percent to a record level $62.371 billion last year from $45.03 billion in 2009 while the balance of payments (BOP) surplus more than doubled to hit a new record level of $14.4 billion from $6.42 billion in 2009.

Record-high in 2010

OFW remittances likewise grew by 8.2 percent to hit a record-high of $18.76 billion last year from $17.35 billion in 2009, exceeding the revised growth forecast of eight percent set by the BSP.

“I would think that as growth becomes more entrenched, BSP should allow the peso to be determined by the market. Given our forecast for growth and inflation, BSP is likely to let the exchange rate do the lifting,” Neumann said.

The bank recently raised its gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast for the Philippines to five percent instead of 4.7 percent this year and to 5.8 percent next year. The country’s GDP growth surged to its fastest in more than three decades after expanding by 7.3 percent last year from 1.1 percent in 2009.

Another bright spot

HSBC economist Sherman Chan said in a study that another bright spot is the country’s external position that remained on a firm footing buoyed by rising reserves and steady growth in equity flows.

“That said, the economy remains vulnerable to rising capital inflows and ensuing appreciation pressure on the peso. The former may fuel asset inflation; the latter could hurt export competitiveness,” Chan added.

HSBC sees inflation climbing to 4.4 percent this year and 4.8 percent next year from 3.8 percent last year. The BSP expects inflation to average 4.4 percent instead of 3.6 percent this year and 3.5 percent instead of three percent next year but still well within the target of three percent five percent between 2011 and 2014.

Neumann expresses concern on the possibility that the BSP would keep interest rates at record lows despite the risk of higher inflation in the coming months.

“Every central bank in East Asia, except BSP, has raised its interest rates. Unless interest rates go up, there will be a danger of inflation,” he added.

$1.7-B in December alone

Central bank data showed that money transfers by OFWs also reached a new monthly record of $1.694 billion last December, up 8.1 percent from December 2009, which eclipsed the $1.673- billion record booked last October.

The amount of remittances in 2010 topped the revised 8 percent growth forecast by monetary authorities, with the BSP initially saying the amount would likely grow by 6 percent.

“The 2010 level slightly exceeded the BSP’s forecast of $18.7 billion, or an 8.0 percent year-on-year growth for the year,” said BSP Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr.

Tetangco said remittances jumped by $1.415 billion from the previous record of $17.348 billion in 2009 as the money sent home by sea-based OFWs went up by 11.9 percent while that of land-based workers increased by 7.2 percent.

Driving factors

“The major driving factors that helped accelerate the growth in remittances were the diversity of the destinations and skills of overseas Filipinos combined with the expanding network of bank and non-bank service providers both here and abroad to capture a larger share of the global remittance market,” Tetangco explained.

He cited the steady improvements on the variety and coverage of global remittance networks that have enabled more OFWs to send remittances at a more affordable cost, including web-based services, automated teller machines, as well as reloadable or reusable cash cards.

“The continuing innovation of financial products and services being offered in the market to facilitate money transfers have likewise contributed to the resilience of remittances throughout the year,” Tetangco said. (Culled from newspaper reports)

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WHAT PRICE OVERSEAS EMPLOYMENT?

Migration

WHAT PRICE OVERSEAS EMPLOYMENT?

No Comments 12 January 2011

By Pepper Marcelo

In September 2010, a Filipina domestic worker returning to Manila from Qatar left her newly born baby in the lavatory of a Gulf Air airplane. She later claimed that she had been raped by her employer, becoming pregnant as a result and, fearing shame from her family, decided to abandon the baby in the trash compartment of the airplane restroom. The baby, later named George Francis by caregivers, survived and has been reunited with his repentant mother.

The following month, another OW committed suicide inside the plane that was bringing him home. Marlon Cueva, 36, was found dead by flight attendants as Gulf Air Flight 154 was preparing to land in Manila from Abu Dhabi. The victim was observed to have been anxious through most of the flight and kept on telling other passengers that he was “sorry.”

Cueva left for the country in September last year to work as an electrician. But barely two months into his two-year contract he resigned, citing “personal reasons.”

These two incidents are the latest grim statistics on the human toll of overseas employment. Every day a sad, often tragic, tale unfolds in every nook and cranny of the world where some 10 million overseas Filipino workers toil under physically severe and emotionally draining conditions.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is currently monitoring some 100 active death penalty cases involving OFWs around the world. Of that number, 16 are for murder-homicide (including rape-robbery with murder), and 74 involve drug trafficking. Last December, President Benign Aquino III admitted that the government had boycotted the Nobel Prize awarding ceremonies in Oslo so as not to earn the ire of the Chinese government, which protested the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to a prominent Chinese pro-democracy activist. Saying the government’s move was “in the national interest,” the President cited the ongoing cases of five OFWs facing execution in China for drug related cases.

Material gain

To be sure, overseas employment has been good to millions of our countrymen and to the economy as well. Think of the mouths it has fed, the students it has sent to school, the houses it has built, the business it has spawned and all the material wealth it has generated.

Then factor in the invaluable boon to the local economy by the enormous remittances sent in by OFWs. The remittance volume last year was projected at $18.5 billion, up by eight per cent from the 2009 level of $17.35 billion. Economists say without these money inflows, the Philippine economy would have been in tatters a long time ago.

But at what price? As if separation from one’s family is not enough pain to bear, migrant workers have to endure untold suffering abroad – abusive employers, inhuman working conditions, meager pay, inhospitable surroundings, homesickness, lack of government support, no job security, discrimination. All this contribute to indescribable physical, emotional and psychological anguish which could push the workers and their families to mental stress, bodily illnesses, and even death. One can only recall the case of Flor Contemplacion, the Filipina domestic worker in Singapore who was executed for killing a fellow Filipina housekeeper and a Singaporean boy the latter was caring for. Citing Contempacion’s unstable mental condition at the time, her supporters pleaded for clemency but to no avail,

Social cost

“It’s difficult to characterize the social cost for OFWs,” says Maria Angela Villalba, CEO of Unlad Kabayan, a program of the Asian Migrant Center which provides services to migrant workers, including savings mobilization and alternative investments at home.

“The situation is this – you’re being uprooted and placed in a situation where the people and environment around you are hostile. You work like a beast of burden from the time you wake up to the time you sleep. You’re always at the mercy of your employer. It is so unbearable that many lose their minds.”

Villalba says the suffering of migrant workers is made worse by the absence of a safe and welcoming place of refuge in their place of destination. “Their coming home to the family after a long day of hard work is taken for granted. But if you do hard work, and you have no family to come home to, and you come home to a cold bed, in a small room, and then wake up the following day to do the same thing, you get yourself into that depressing situation,” she laments.

Given the government’s inability to provides protection and services to OFWs, non-government organizations (NGOs) and migrant workers groups like Unlad Kabayan heroically fill the gap by offering a myriad of services – from crisis intervention, paralegal assistance and counseling to setting up refuge centers and educational services on self-organization, human rights and financial literacy.

The number of OFW-related deaths is rising, notes Villalba, but whether they are due to work-related stress or depression remains untracked. “The government’s response is not all of them died through mysterious circumstances,” she says. “Many of them were supposedly sick, or had accidents, and generally when they’re abroad, there’s a chance or possibility they will die.”

Families left behind

Back home, many families left behind by OFWs are not faring in terms of their psychological and emotional well being. Countless accounts have been told about broken families caused by philandering spouses, either the one abroad or the other left behind.

“Marital relationships require nurturing and intimacy,” says Dr. Gina Hechanova-Alampay, psychologist and founder of the online counseling site OFWOnline. “This becomes difficult when the spouses are physically separated from each other. The OFW and his/her spouse need to find a way to establish such intimacy at least emotionally across the miles. Unless this is done, it is not surprising that they will turn to people who can fulfill their needs for companionship and intimacy.”

With regards to the children, many feel abandoned, and potentially grow up to be spoiled and undisciplined without proper parental guidance. Communications technology such as the internet and cell phones cannot fill the vacuum created by absentee parents.

“Parenting is not just about providing for the needs of children. It is also about being their emotionally and psychologically in order to raise children and teach them the right values,” says Hechanova-Alampay. “Having an OFW parent simply means that the burden of this may fall on the parent who is left behind unless the OFW can constantly communicate with their children to provide such support.”

Besides the separation anxiety that comes from longing for parental care, children of OFWs may also be confused about gender roles or develop a materialistic attitude. Sometimes, when the father is reluctant or unwilling to fill the parental void left by an absent mother, it is usually the eldest daughter who assumes the role of caregiver for the family.

Government’s role

The Philippine government is fully aware of the problems confronting OFWs and their families. But for all its avowed concern for the “Bagong Bayani,” it has not been able to provide the necessary services for workers abroad and their families at home. The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) and the Philippine embassies and consulates are grossly short of funds and staff.

Migrant groups have complained that government agencies are slow to respond, and even insensitive and apathetic to the plight of the migrant workers. “I’ve heard reports from workers about government officials admonishing them, ‘With the lack of jobs in the Philippines, you should be thankful to have a job in the first place,’” narrates Villalba. “It is not very encouraging, to say the least.”

Hechanova-Alampay adds that government political and legal officers and consulate staff are not trained to provide psychosocial support to migrant workers. “I think the government needs to recognize this need and find ways either by assigning people in the consulate who would have the capacity for such type of psychological service or to at the very least train staff on doing ‘first-aid counseling’.  The consulate staff could also be trained on spotting danger signs so they can refer OFWs to appropriate professionals.”

Given the government’s inadequate resources and services to cope with the myriad of pressing problems of our migrant workers and their families, our OFWs have only themselves, their kababayans and migrant organizations to fall back on. With very limited options, they can console themselves with the thought that perhaps conditions back home are not any better.

For workers experiencing hardship abroad, Villalba advises them to remain optimistic and to focus on their goals for the future.

“Save your money, and then build your dream or plan your future while you are still here in your destination country,” she says. “You will not be in that country forever; you have a family to come home to. Put your plan together early and realize it with your family before you become strangers.”

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OVERSEAS PINOYS FUEL REAL ESTATE BOOM AT HOME

Migration

OVERSEAS PINOYS FUEL REAL ESTATE BOOM AT HOME

No Comments 03 January 2011

By Mynardo Macaraig

The Philippines’ famous diaspora of overseas workers is fuelling a boom in the real estate market back home as they snap up houses and apartments to safeguard their futures.

Property prices have recovered strongly since the global financial crisis of 2008, with investments from the 9 million Filipinos toiling away in foreign lands a significant factor, industry figures say.

“Overseas workers are moving the market. Properties now are selling and when there is demand, prices go up,” Emily Duterte, head of the Real Estate Brokers Association of the Philippines, told Agence France-Presse.

Industry sales nationwide this year are estimated to hit 300 billion pesos (6.9 billion dollars) compared with about 100 billion pesos each in 2009 and 2008, according to Claro Cordero from Jones Lang La Salle, a global real estate consultancy firm.

Quick recovery

“Nobody thought there would be such a quick recovery from the slump that began in 2008,” said Cordero, research head of the company’s Philippines’ branch.

Filipino workers abroad have a reputation for working as lower-paid employees, such as construction workers, maids, sailors and janitors.

But their sheer magnitude — they account for about 10 percent of the Philippine population — mean they have long been a major force in the economy.

In 2009, they sent home 17.3 billion dollars, making up more than 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, according to government data.

And Filipinos are increasingly moving into higher-paid sectors, such as medicine, engineering and the media.

Overseas workers usually opt for houses costing about two million pesos (45,000 dollars), humble by foreign standards but well in the middle-class bracket for Filipinos, according to Duterte from the brokers’ association.

Real estate investment

Fifty-year-old merchant seaman Rodolfo Oliverio has spent most of his working life outside of the Philippines but he is an active player in the domestic real estate market.

Oliverio has used his overseas earnings to buy two small houses in the heart of Manila for his wife and children to live in, and he is paying for a third he recently bought just outside the nation’s capital.

“If you work here, nothing will happen. The salaries are too small. The only way to afford a house is to become an overseas worker,” Oliverio told AFP while on his annual vacation in Manila.

“Naturally, among overseas workers, the most important thing is a house and lot.”

Oliverio said that as a ship’s bosun — the crew’s foreman — for a foreign company, he earned about 82,800 pesos a month, roughly four times more than he could earn doing the same job with a local cargo line.

Home sweet home

With his salary, he said he was confident he could afford the repayments on his third house, a middle-class 42-square-meter (452-square-feet) place south of Manila which cost a little over 1.5 million pesos.

Industry observers said Oliverio’s real estate goals were typical of many overseas workers.

“Most have left families back home so they want to have a home for their families. Their children, their parents, these are the ones who stay in the houses they buy,” said Duterte.

Filipinos have traditionally preferred living in houses, no matter how small, over apartments, but living overseas has started to change preferences.

Revitalized condo market

Overseas workers have revitalized the condominium market, said Manuel Serrano, head of the Chamber of Real Estate and Builders Association.

“In the beginning, they were more interested in house and lots but in the last two years, the tempo has changed. The demand now is for condos,” Serrano told AFP.

“Most of these people have gotten used to the lifestyle abroad and, in condos, they don’t have to worry about doing a lot of cleaning, gardening and watering of plants.”

Even for the traditional housing market, living overseas has changed the tastes of many Filipinos.

“A lot of developments are incorporating designs that are inspired by architecture worldwide, with a Mediterranean or an American feel,” said Jones Lang La Salle’s Cordero.

$15.5-B in first 10 months

Meanwhile, OFW remittances grew by 10.6% in October at $1.7 billion, the highest monthly level so far this year, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said.

This brought remittances for the first 10 months of 2010 to $15.5 billion, up 7.9% year on year.

Money remitted came mostly from the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Japan, United Kingdom, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Italy, Germany and Norway.

The BSP noted that steady demand for professional and skilled Filipino workers abroad, and increased access of OFWs and their families to formal money transfer channels continued to boost remittance growth.

Based on preliminary data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), approved job orders overseas reached 578,535, of which about 39.2% was comprised of processed job orders for service, production, as well as professional, technical and related workers.

The central bank expects remittances to grow 8% in 2010 from $17.3 billion in 2009, a record high despite weak employment numbers worldwide due to the impact of the global financial crisis. (Agence France-Presse)

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OFW REMITTANCES HELP SUSTAIN 7 PERCENT GROWTH

Migration

OFW REMITTANCES HELP SUSTAIN 7 PERCENT GROWTH

No Comments 10 October 2010

Without OFW remittances, it would be difficult for the Philippines to sustain the annual GDP growth of 7 percent or more. It is fortunate that the outlook for the earnings of OFWs remain bright, despite the very slow recovery of the developed countries. Thanks to their unique traits and talents, OFWs continue to be the first to be hired and the last to be fired in some 200 countries all over the world. READ FULL STORY

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TOILING FAR FROM HOME FOR PHILIPPINE DREAMS

Migration

TOILING FAR FROM HOME FOR PHILIPPINE DREAMS

3 Comments 18 September 2010

Mabini, Batangas — Mediterranean-inspired, pastel-colored houses dot the coast and hills of this rural town in the Philippines, dwarfing their traditional counterparts made of unpainted concrete blocks under roofs of corrugated zinc. The larger houses, barely inhabited, many of them empty, belong to overseas workers who plan to return here one day. READ FULL STORY

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OFW ISSUE A MAJOR CHALLENGE FOR NEXT PRESIDENT

Migration

OFW ISSUE A MAJOR CHALLENGE FOR NEXT PRESIDENT

No Comments 22 March 2010

They may have brought home the bacon – $17 billion in 2009 or over 10 times bigger than last year’s expected foreign direct investment – but more than an economic force, overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have evolved into a social phenomenon that the country’s next president needs to resolve decisively.

The Filipino diaspora has fostered a “culture of migration,” Professor Mary Lou Alcid of the University of the Philippines’ College of Social Work and Community Development said in a campus forum last February. This has resulted, she noted, in “transnational Filipino families” with the father in Saudi Arabia, the mother in Hong Kong, the daughter in Taiwan, the brother in Dubai, and the youngest left in the Philippines.

In the May elections, migration experts believe that voters should pick a candidate who can resolve the problem of large-scale labor deployment abroad which results in the break-up of families, abuse of OFWs, the spread of infectious diseases, and other ills.

However, about a month before the polls, migrant groups say no candidate has come up with specific strategies to address these problems. FULL STORY.

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OFWS FACE BLEAK PROSPECTS

Migration

OFWS FACE BLEAK PROSPECTS

3 Comments 11 March 2010

By Pepper Marcelo

The Philippine Overseas Employment sector is at a crossroads. For decades, the country has relied on remittances to fuel the local economy and its domestic consumption. Now it faces rough sailing as labor demand from overseas slows down as a result of the global financial crisis.

No other country has had as much an over-reliance on remittances as the Philippines. Compared to other top recipient countries such as India, China and Mexico, the high percentage of remittances to the national income, or GDP, is highly disproportionate.

For example, the ratio of remittances (in billions of dollars) to the GDP of India is 27-to-3, China 27.5-to-1, and Mexico 25-to-2.8. The Philippines, on the other hand, is 17-to-13.8.

The country’s economic survival is dependent on sustaining these OFW remittances. With the current global financial crisis effecting migrant workers, however, the OFW sector faces an accelerating number of complex challenges going into the new decade and beyond.

Europe, North America and Asia are in a recession of unknown duration and depth. Job orders from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, previously considered the best countries for expatriates, have stopped.

Only Middle East countries of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and Libya are hiring workers, using government and sovereign funds that sustain much of their current infrastructure projects and OFW manpower demand.

“To them, the Middle East is a difficult place. There’s no freedom there,” says Loreto Soriano, executive director of the Federated Association of Manpower Exporters (FAME). “The point I want to clarify, is that in those first world countries that the Filipino would normally want to go, they are the first to be affected by the crisis. You have to be practical. If you’re looking for a job and want to earn, that’s the place.”

Soriano is an Overseas Contract Worker (OCW) himself, having experienced personal economic benefits (as well as family sacrifice) while stationed in Saudi Arabia in the 80’s. Over the last two decades he has become involved in the migration of workers, and has been advocating the design of OFW components that would be beneficial to OFWs and the nation.

Dutch disease

To him, remittances are causing a “Dutch Disease.” “It is a phenomena in which you are awash with wealth but spend it unwisely.”

The concept is based on the impact of the high remittance growth rate in many sectors of the economy, including appreciating the peso, increasing foreign imports and discouraging domestic production, increasing government debt, encouraging smuggling and allowing for the growth of corruption.

“For example, before, to sustain the wealth of your family, you had a farm, a piggery or small poultry. This is the source of income that provided education to your kids. If you have a daughter in Japan or Saudi earning overseas and sending home money, you don’t need to sustain that farm.”

On a larger scale, “Dutch Disease” is the detrimental outcome of a country’s foreign exchange income without the government’s cost of development and investment.

Erroneous data

The financial sector and government agencies have propagated the falsehood that the last few years’ remittance record increases have been driven by a large increasing group of OFWs working in “recession-proof” occupations.

In fact, professional deployments have declined by 45% from 2005-2007, and less than 5% of all OFWs should be considered working in recession-proof positions, such as healthcare, 70% of whom are employed in Saudi Arabia.

There is a fundamental flaw to the collection and processing of OFW deployment and hiring data. Deployment statistics reflect multiple counting, while job classifications are too few, outmoded, and not sufficiently detailed. Financially, authorities have been aware of OFW statistical inconsistencies and deficiencies for years. Most statistical claims are believed but “upwardly biased.”

Many officials say there is record growth, but it is attributable to change in mode of transfer rather than increased deployments of professionals with increased salaries.

These statistics reflect different channels of delivery – from banking to non-banking, or non-informal channels such as couriers, hand carry and padala transfer methods.

“If there is growth, why can’t poor people feel it? Because it is a jobless growth. From a productive economy, it has changed into a consumptive economy. Because of the inflow of dollars, and industries are dying, there is so much consuming by the families of OFWs. And if there in nothing to buy locally, we import everything we need.”

And contrary to popular belief that OFWS are employed in recession-proof industries and a high percentage of them are professionals, they are not. Though it is stated that 90% of the OFW workforce is composed of professionals, the number is closer to 13%, and that is steadily declining.

The fact is that OFW deployment is dominated by low-skilled workers, encompassing household, service, factory and labor. The deployment of professionals – nurses, doctors, etc. – remains low compared with other skills categories. In the supposedly “recession-proof” healthcare industry, only approximately 3% of nurses were new hires in 2007, down 36% from their peak of 9,000 in 2001.

It is also believed that hundreds of thousands of nurses are deployed each year, when in reality, it is less than 10,000. And that many of them go to the U.S., but actually only 186 went in 2007.

Unemployable graduates

“That kind of dialogue – that tens of thousands of nurses are deployed since 2003 – invited half a million enrollees in nursing for the past six years,” Soriano says. “That’s why you have computer schools like AMA and STI and Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT), companies that are dedicated to IT and engineering, opening nursing courses.”

The Philippines is producing unemployable candidates and qualified graduates for most job orders, yet nationwide specialty “schools” and programs keep proliferating, ignoring the job market reality.

For many years, the Overseas Employment Service Providers (OESP) has voiced their concerns on the incompatibility of college, technical and vocation courses with international standards.

Unfilled job vacancies, approximately 500,000 according to the POEA, were not filled due to the lack of experienced, qualified professionals and skilled workers. There are 389,000 job orders, but only 25% can be filled in the next 6 months.

Increased competition and lack of experienced, qualified applicants will continue to increase and accelerate. There is also a lack of permanent jobs for gainful experience, with manufacturing industries that offer permanent jobs quickly dwindling.

“Can we change that? No, unless there are structural changes.” One of his solutions is that returned and “retired” OFWs should be treated as productive assets and become part of a new economic model that utilizes their experience, knowledge and available investment funds by working under sustainable domestic programs. This includes agriculture and community-based commerce.

Failure to act now, Soriano says, to protect and sustain the OFW economic engine will cause great political and social uncertainty in the country and affect the capacity to be a regional player in the future.

“Our economists and government policy makers should realize this. The effect of their failure to protect the local economy is now affecting the overseas employee.”

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FILIPINO SEAMEN STILL RULE THE SEAS, FOR NOW

Migration

FILIPINO SEAMEN STILL RULE THE SEAS, FOR NOW

3 Comments 02 February 2010

By Perla Aragon Choudhury

The money sent home by overseas Filipino sailors rose by $108 million to a new record of $2.501 billion in the first nine months of 2009, an increase of or 4.51 percent from $2.393 billion over the same period in 2008, according to the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP).

TUCP secretary general and former Senator Ernesto Herrera said the rise in remittances from sea-based migrant Filipino workers is due to increased enlistment by ship owners in Europe and Asia.

“A growing number of European and Asian shipping firms is disbanding their multinational crews, and replacing them wholesale with all-Filipino personnel that are younger and more able,” says Herrera.

“Foreign employers find Filipino sailors quick learners, and easier to train compared to other nationals. This may be due to their superior instruction here, apart from their ability to understand English,” he adds.

About 229,000 Filipino sailors are on board merchant shipping vessels around the world at any given time, data from the Department of Labor and Employment show.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) reports that in 2007 – the year for which the most recent data are available – Filipino seafarers were employed by 1,157 registered/accredited manning agencies, up from 869 in 2006.

The Philippines, says POEA, has been the world’s leading supplier of seafarers since 1987, making it the manning capital of the world.

Overseas assignments

Data in 2007 showed that Filipino seamen were scattered aboard vessels bearing various flags of registry: Panama – 51,614; Bahamas – 29,681; Liberia – 21,966; Singapore – 10,308; Marshall Islands – 9, 772; United Kingdom – 8,172 ; Malta – 7,513; Cyprus – 7, 052; the Netherlands – 7,017; and Norway – 6, 975.

By vessel type, here are the 2007 statistics on Filipino seamen: passenger-type – 47, 782; bulk carriers – 42, 356; containers – 31, 983; tankers – 25,011; oil/product tankers – 14, 462;   general cargo ships – 10,754.;  chemical tankers – 7,502 ; tugboats – 6,610;  pure car carriers – 5,742; and gas tankers – 3,471.

By type of work, the 226,900 local seafarers deployed overseas in 2007 were assigned as follows: seamen – 31,818; oilers – 19,491; ordinary semen – 17,355; mess men – 7,810; chief cooks – 7,778; bosuns – 7,737; third engineers – 7,056; third mates – 6,599; and waiters – 6,388.

Global crisis

In late 2008, even as the global financial crisis was wreaking havoc on virtually every major economic sector, the manning industry suffered minimal setback in terms of job losses.

“The bulk of the seafaring industry is not as affected as people might think,” says Miguel Angel Rocha, vice-president for business development of CF Sharp Crew Management, Inc., one of the country’s leading manning companies. His firm is now the major business of CCF Sharp, a port agency business began in the late 1930s by his grandfather and business partner CF Sharp. It is also the first Filipino manning company to be certified as compliant with ISO 9000 Standards.

“The manning industry is a trailing indicator,” Rocha tells Planet Philippines in an interview. “Only after an event will it be affected. Lately, ships had been 15% laid up, or out of service, and by 2009 the figure was 30%. But jobs were not lost because of the `hot’ or `warm’ nature of the industry – a ship always needs engineers and crew to operate, maintain and mobilize it.

“Chinese factories stopped ordering raw materials and so bulk ships were the first to get affected. By November 2008 there was a decrease in daily chartering from $180, 0000 per day to $3,000-5,000 per day in September. After Christmas [of 2008] and New Year [of 2009], there were no more orders and container ships were down. We don’t see a significant loss of jobs but we do see slower growth.”

Prospects

Rocha is optimistically guarded about the prospects in 2010.

“Even if the global economy gets better, it will take a long time before we see a recovery in our industry,” he stresses.

He warns that if the market worsens, jobs will be harder to find.

“Also, seafarers now working might have to work less and stay on vacation longer. There is no growth as ship owners try to maintain their pace of work where they have 15 persons on board for the 10 actually needed.”

But then, Rocha explains, the shipping industry is cyclical. “A new ship means new crew in boom times. Now this is going to change and so they’re laying vessels but not selling them for scrap, and giving the crew  longer shore leave. But then again, things might turn around and it will be boom time again.”

Poaching of officers

Rocha is actually more concerned about the poaching of senior officers, from master officers and chief mates to chief and second engineers, which could have a more dramatic impact on the industry.

The global shortage of officers is oftentimes remedied by a greater-rotation-cum-shorter-vacation solution. The problem is only a recent development, according to Rocha. Officers and ratings used to be available, mostly from the West.

“But as more ships were built in the ‘90s and today, as the economy of the West expands, British, German and Norwegian officers can earn as much or even more on land. They have left and have been replaced by officers from Poland and Ukraine.”

The vacuum could have been filled up by the local manning industry but unfortunately, there are not enough Filipinos with the required skills and training.

Lack of training

“There are 80 to 100 maritime schools offering BS Marine Transportation and BS Marine Engineering courses with a curriculum of three years in the classroom and 12 months on board a ship prior to state board exams, but less than 20 percent of the students get on board,” he laments.

Rocha cites two top maritime schools in the Philippines where slightly under 15% of the most recent graduating class have trained on a ship. Their graduates got certificates of academic equivalency but they are not on board because the majority of ship owners do not make a provision for cadets on board, who would also have to be paid.

“The problem is no one is willing to challenge ship owners,” he continues. “Some 280,000 students graduate each year. That seems a lot of seamen who could get a higher income for their families. But people don’t see the uphill battle in getting the license, and educators prey on seamen. Going abroad is not always pleasant experience and can be very daunting.”

But Rocha notes that there is a bit of positive news on the horizon as ship owners have lately invested in training. For one, the Norwegian Shipowners Association has a program for cadets.

But without support from POEA and the Commission for Higher Education (CHED), Rocha fears that maritime schools might not participate or offer enough slots in the training and development of seafarers.

It remains to be seen if the government and the manning industry could come up with policies and measures to address the problems and challenges. Unless there is a serious effort to meet them head-on, less and less Filipino seafarers may find their way into the open seas.

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