DO the 6,000-plus Filipinos leaving the country daily have no other choice but to go abroad?
In 2014, the POEA reported 487,176 newly hired contract workers deployed. Of this number, Household Service Workers (Domestic Helpers) top the list at 183,101 or almost 38 percent of the OFWs for the year.
In fact, nine of the top 10 categories of land-based OFWs deployed did not require diplomas or bachelor degrees to qualify for and get their jobs abroad. Since only nurses need diploma and licensure to practice their profession, approximately 96 percent of these OFWs need only a high-school diploma or two years of college education to go abroad.
Should they opt to stay and find employment at home, where would the non-degree holders, undergraduates and elementary graduates find work?
In July 2015, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that 55 percent of those employed were in the services sector followed by those in the agricultural sector (28 percent). Workers in the industry sector registered the smallest at 6.5 percent.
Wage and salary workers represent 62.4 percent, including those who work in their own family farm or business. Sadly, 3,173,337 Filipinos work without pay from their own farm or business. Among the unpaid family workers, 64.9 percent were working in the agriculture sector. Also, more than 10.2 million workers were self-employed but had no employees.
All workers in the National Capital Region (non-agri and agriculture) get the highest daily wage at P444. Agricultural workers in Region 10 are paid the highest – P291 to P306.
If a family of five wants to get out and stay out of poverty, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) estimates it needs P258.96 daily to take care of the basic necessities: food, water and clothing. Note that this does not include shelter and cost of sending children to school to get an elementary or high school diploma.
Primary and secondary education in public schools remains tuition-free, but the cost of going to school (books, supplies, uniform, transportation, lunch money) is not included.
Self-employed individuals, especially those owning and running their own farms and businesses, could barely provide for these after-the-basic needs, leading to the high rates of dropouts from the primary, secondary and, especially, college, levels (Data below from Philippine Statistics Authority.)
The poverty threshold income for a family of five is P93,225.60 per year.
Based on today’s exchange rates, this amount would be the equivalent of US$1,992.80; for Canada – $2,504.68; Australia – $2,616.40; New Zealand – $2,869.20; Ireland – €1,757.94 and the UK – £1,368.08.
Dairy farm workers in New Zealand are paid NZ$15.25 per hour. At the normal eight hours a day, five days a week, a Filipino working in an NZ farm would earn the equivalent of P19,820.00 a week or P79,280.00 a month. Thus a Filipino farm worker in New Zealand need only to work for one month and a week to earn more than what he or she would have to labor for a year in the Philippines.
A caregiver in Canada (the country’s version of household help) receives at least $12.58/hour or P74,917.70 a month. Just like in New Zealand, a Filipina caregiver needs only to work a month and a week to earn what amounts to her annual salary in the Philippines.
Nurses who find jobs in Canada as nursing assistants or practical nurses earn $18.58 per hour (P110,649.00 a month) close to what a licensed nurse in the Philippines is normally paid for a year.
A student in a health-care-related course (Aged Care) working while studying in Australia must be paid $18.38 per hour (according to the Fair Work Ombudsman) or the equivalent of P104,785 month.
After completion of the academic program, the student could qualify to apply for permanent residency with a job offer, logically from the same employer the student worked part- or full-time while studying. The earnings increase substantially, a career pathway could be mapped without relying on who-you-know.
Back in the Philippines, NEDA Director General Arsenio Balisacan mused in 2012 “to increase the income of the main earner to get the family out of poverty.” More about this promise later.
Going abroad not for everyone
While the POEA consistently reminds job-seekers that foreign employers or their designated licensed recruiters in the Philippines cannot and must not charge applicants for any placement fees, the cost of prequalifying must be borne by the applicant. In practice, some employers require applicants to pay the cost of qualifying for the job with a promise (through a side-agreement) that the costs shall be reimbursed when the applicant successfully obtains the needed requirements.
It is not uncommon then, that applicants for farm jobs in New Zealand, domestic helper employment in Canada, Singapore or the Middle East, nursing position in the UK or Ireland must fork out the initial payment to obtain the accreditation of trade competency and registration or licensure for a profession.
There are thousands of jobs for nurses in the UK, but the cost of registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council is daunting both in terms of theory and practice. First, the Philippine RN must get a minimum score of 7.0 in each of the language components in IELTS and have his or her credentials assessed to determine eligibility to pursue the registration. The total cost of the registration process is £1,415 or P96,422.70, almost a year’s salary.
Then the PH RN must take the Part 1 of the registration process (a multiple choice exam that can be taken in the Philippines through a Pearson Vue test center). Then the practical part called an OSCE (objective structured clinical examination) must be taken in the UK at the University of Northampton.
The cost of taking and completing the exam would run to more than a million pesos given the cost of airfare and accommodations while preparing for and taking the OSCE. Only after successfully completing the registration could the Filipino RN start working as a registered nurse in general practice. Then, the employer deducts whatever expenses were advanced if such was the verbal (non-written) agreement. In practice, the nurse would have to shoulder a significant portion of the registration expenses.
So far, we have only discussed the money part of going overseas. The social costs of migration have not yet kicked in: the alienation of parents from their children and the breakdown of families. Infidelity and marriage annulment cases have increased over the years, observes Father Resty Ogsimer, executive secretary of the Catholic Church-based migrant welfare group ECMI.
For the workers, the tragedy of being duped into human trafficking and prostitution, exposure to virulent diseases, and war and death are beyond price. After all, how much value would one put in a human life?
But tell that to the overseas employment marines, the Guardians of Remittances, addicted to the billions of dollars streaming in every year, keeping the Philippine economy and currency afloat.
Last Friday, President B.S. Aquino III claimed that none of his predecessors or successors (other than Mar Roxas) could top his “solid achievements,” particularly “the country’s 6.2 percent annual average economic growth under his watch.”
Candidate Aquino promised in April 2010 that if elected, he would create “better high-paying jobs” and an environment where investors and businesses can thrive. He also cited education as a long-term solution and the need to prioritize health “through broader social health care.”
Despite the economic gains, some 25 million Filipinos or a quarter of the population live in poverty. On March 18, 2016, the PSA reported that “in the first semester of 2015, on the average, incomes of poor families were short by 29 percent of the poverty threshold. This means that on the average, an additional monthly income of P2,649 is needed by a poor family with five members in order to move out of poverty in the first semester of 2015.”
In July 2015, the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), a London think-tank, said that despite robust economic growth “the Philippines remains one of the poorest in Southeast Asia and the Philippine economy would continue to be “marked by wide inequalities of income, and the disparity between the richest and poorest households would stay particularly acute.”
Given the failure of the Philippine government to eradicate corruption and the resultant poverty, the lower to upper middle-class consider going abroad as the most viable choice despite the dangers and social costs.
To those who might complain, we remind them to expect what President B.S. Aquino III reminded Tacloban businessman Kenneth Uy about his almost becoming a victim of shooting during the looting incidents in Tacloban after Yolanda: “Eh, buhay ka pa naman, ‘di ba?”