Migrante International considers the purported intention of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to impose a 90 % reduction on the deployment of construction workers overseas due to local demand for Duterte’s Build, Build, Build projects as very misleading. In reality, there has been a huge decrease in the deployment of construction workers in typical destinations like Saudi and other Middle Eastern countries due to the economic downturn in the region.
An ever-increasing number of big construction companies in Saudi Arabia are failing to meet their obligations to their employees and labourers. What the Duterte administration is not telling us in relation to the Middle East crisis is that this has led to thousands of stranded and distressed OFWs in Saudi who have been clamouring for immediate repatriation.
On top of the economic crisis, Middle Eastern countries like Saudi and Qatar are vigorously implementing the nationalization (Saudization, Qatarization, etc.) of their labour sector. Saudi Arabia is already beginning to curtail the issuance of job orders as it proceeds to prioritize its own nationals in job placements.
Based on POEA figures, the overseas deployment of construction labourers and welders experienced a 31 % plunge in 2017. This is several times bigger than the average or overall 4 % drop in the total deployment of OFWs in the same period. DOLE’s attempt to smokescreen the real situation by citing Duterte’s Build, Build, Build is pure deception.
We see this as the Duterte regime’s mode of seeking damage control on the issue of its onerous deals with China which highly favoured Chinese contractors that require placement of Chinese workers. This is highly suspicious considering the timing of DOLE’s pronouncement of the 90 % deployment decrease was made just after its high-level committee meeting with other government agencies wherein they sought to address the issue on the influx of foreign workers in the Philippines.
Imposing a cut back on overseas deployment will not address the issues of Filipino workers. In fact, it goes against their desire to get their families off the hook from the rising prices of goods due to Duterte’s TRAIN Law and the agony of underpaid work caused by low wages. Filipino workers can only dream of having in their own country the benefits of free services like housing, free transportation, food and medical care which many have experienced overseas before the crisis began. Many Filipino labourers are wary that the absence of these free benefits and services in the Philippines will only exacerbate the seasonal nature of their project-based contractual occupation.
Clearly, the Duterte regime has no intent in building the conditions that will make Filipino workers stay in the country as it refuses to reverse the government’s anti-worker policies that perpetuate contractualization, low wages, hazardous working conditions, absence of benefits and poor social services.