More than one million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) could lose their jobs if war breaks out between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran, labor groups warned on Thursday.
The displacement of such a big number of Filipino workers would pose a big challenge to the government because they would add to the 11 million jobless Filipinos in the Philippines, Alan Tanjusay, spokesman for the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines-Nagkaisa (TUCP-Nagkaisa), said.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are host to more than one million OFWs.
The government of Saudi Arabia cut its ties with Iran on January 2 after Riyadh’s embassy in Tehran was attacked by protesters hours after Saudi executed Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas had said remittances could be affected by escalating tensions in the Middle East.
“We may see some temporary setback because of logistical difficulties and deployment may slow,” Central Bank Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were among the major sources of cash remittances in the first 10 months of 2015.
Wilson Fortaleza, spokesman for Partido Manggagawa (PM), said the government should be prepared to help displaced workers and their families.
Tanjusay said the government should prepare for a “worst scenario” by coming up with “contingency measures including relocation, transfer and, if need be, evacuation of OFWs who might be affected in case the current political tensions spin out of control.”
On Wednesday, President Benigno Aquino 3rd instructed labor and foreign officials to prepare “comprehensive contingency plans” for the OFWs who would be displaced by the Middle East crisis.
Tanjusay said aside from the sudden job displacement of OFWs, the government must also take into consideration the “lessened remittance” of OFWs and possible interruption of oil supply.
The government, Fortaleza said, should also prepare strategic measures against the “possible collapse of the petro-dollar economy because of the oil crisis.”
“And that would mean employment and livelihood programs for displaced OFWs and their families,” he added.
Malacañang also on Thursday said the country is fine-tuning contingency measures to keep more Filipinos in the Middle East safe.
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. cited the need for “comprehensive contingency measures” involving various agencies.
“Kaya patuloy na pina-fine-tune at ina-update ‘yung mga plano na dati nang naihanda para tiyakin na ito ay magiging epektibo kung anuman ang sitwasyon na maganap [That’s why we are finetuning and updating plans to ensure that these will be effective],” Coloma told reporters.
So far, there is no indication that Filipinos based in Iran and Saudi Arabia are in danger.
Nevertheless, Coloma noted that Philippine embassies and consulates are ready to extend assistance to OFWs.
He said the government had demonstrated its capability to repatriate distressed OFWs from conflict-stricken areas in North Africa and the Middle East countries, such as Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.