People walk along Roxas Boulevard in Manila, Philippines. (Photographer: Veejay Villafranca/Bloomberg)

New Destinations for Philippine Workers Are Russia, China

(Bloomberg) -- Russia and China are just some of the promising destinations for Filipinos looking for jobs abroad as the Philippines seeks to cut its reliance on the Middle East.

“Russia is opening their market for the first time to the Philippines,” Bernard Olalia, head of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, said in an interview in his office in Manila. “They want a government-to-government deployment scheme, just like what we did with China.”

Russia is hiring skilled workers in construction and services and China is asking the Philippines to send over 2,000 English teachers this year, Olalia said on April 20. The Czech Republic and San Marino are also negotiating labor deals, he said.

For decades, the Philippines has relied on money sent home by millions of overseas workers to boost the economy and support the currency. The funds - estimated by the World Bank to be $33 billion last year - account for about 10 percent of gross domestic product and are the nation’s largest source of foreign exchange after exports.

New Destinations for Philippine Workers Are Russia, China

With exports faltering and stocks suffering outflows, officials are banking on remittances to help stabilize the peso, Asia’s worst-performing currency this year. The peso has lost more than 4 percent against the dollar in 2018.

The Middle East remains the largest destination for landbased workers with more than 1 million deployed in 2016, accounting for 63 percent of the total. But the brutal killing of a domestic worker, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait, pushed President Rodrigo Duterte to order a deployment ban to the Arab state since February.

Click to read the deployment ban to Kuwait

The Philippines is flexing its muscle to protect workers in other Middle Eastern countries amid cases of employer abuse, Olalia said. A deployment ban to Saudi Arabia isn’t far-fetched unless better labor conditions are provided, he said.

"We don’t mind advising the President to impose a deployment ban in countries where our Filipino workers are suffering so much, like Kuwait," Olalia said.

The outlook for labor demand is strong and deployment will keep growing, Olalia said. Aging populations are prompting Japan and South Korea to place more job orders for Filipino health workers, while Singapore is looking to hire in its technology sector.

According to Olalia, the administration’s policy now is to focus on skilled workers and professionals, whose working conditions are significantly better.

Way Home

The government is also offering workers a way home. Duterte’s $180 billion infrastructure program aims to create 2 million jobs a year, primarily in construction.

Officials are planning “reverse job fairs” in the Middle East to lure Filipino carpenters, welders and pipe-fitters back to the Philippines, Olalia said. Even so, the agency admits it would be tough to match the salaries abroad, which can typically go as much as 300 percent higher than domestic wages.

“Compensation abroad is really higher than in the Philippines. But if you consider the social factor, the separation from family - that’s more important than financial gain,” Olalia said.

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