Ople Center sees new wave of retrenchment in KSA; seeks national reintegration strategy for jobless OFWs

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The decisions of President Duterte, posing with repatriated OFWs from the Middle East in this photo, caused fear and confusion among many Filipinos. (KRIZJOHN ROSALES/Philstar)

The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization that assists distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), urged the labor department to prepare for the eventual reintegration of thousands of Filipino workers who will be affected by Saudi Arabia’s new policy against the hiring of expatriates in retail shops across the kingdom.

The Ople Policy Center noted that a decree issued by the Saudi Minister of Labor and Social Development declared 12 retail jobs to be off-limits for non-Saudis beginning September 11, 2018.

The following retail job categories have been classified as Saudi-only:
• Watches
• Eyewear
• Medical equipment and devices
• Electrical and electronic appliances
• Auto parts
• Building materials
• Carpets
• Cars and motorcycles
• Home and office furniture
• Children’s clothing and men’s accessories
• Home kitchenware
• Confectioneries

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has embarked on an ambitious Vision 2030 plan, where it intends to cut all contracts pertaining to expatriate workers in government agencies and ministries within three years.

The plan also includes the nationalization of jobs in shopping malls. This was touted to be part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s strategy to nationalize the kingdom’s workforce by diversifying its economy and reducing its dependence on oil exports.

“We need a national strategy of our own, to help our OFWs from Saudi Arabia who will have to return to the country and start all over again through no fault of their own,” Susan Ople, former labor undersecretary and head of the Ople Center said.

The OFW advocate noted that some of those who will be affected by the Saudi ministry’s order have been away from the country for several years.

“Many of these workers face termination of contracts without any safety nets. They have worked in the same retail outlets for many years, and would now have to come back and compete with fresh graduates and millions of unemployed and underemployed workers,” Ople said.

The Ople Center urged the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Trade and Industry to formalize a re-entry plan for returning OFWs that would include apprenticeship and skills re-tooling programs.

“The solution lies in a more creative synergy in matching the qualifications of our returning OFWs to available jobs in the private sector. Let’s not wait till September to start this dialogue on how to improve the government’s reintegration program for our OFWs,” Ople added.

She said that, while China and Japan are often mentioned as in dire need of Filipino workers, the job categories involved are very much different. “Every country has a different set of job requirements and policies governing the hiring of expats. For decades now, Saudi Arabia has been the top destination of Filipinos who wish to work overseas. The reality is that the global job market is now changing, and nationalization policies are forcing more expats out of labor-destination countries.”

Ople noted that Oman also issued a six-month ban on the issuance of work visas to expatriates in 10 sectors, including information systems, engineering, aviation and certain technical professions.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Bakri, the sultanate’s Minister of Manpower, issued the new regulation, which takes effect immediately.

The six-month ban was meant to “Omanise” the labor market and encourage private companies to hire from within the country.

“Given this trend towards “nationalization”, we need a sharper and more urgent focus on OFW reintegration services while accelerating our own economic initiatives and programs,” the Ople Center said.