Wake Up, Philippines!

Filipino workers in peril

Posted in Global Financial Crisis, OFWs by Erineus on March 21, 2009

BABE’S EYE VIEW By Babe Romualdez Updated March 15, 2009 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, DC — The mood in Washington, DC as confirmed to me by our Philippine Ambassador to Washington Willy Gaa, is that the US Congress now more than ever is inclined to listen to the general clamor to create “jobs for Americans” especially now that the number of jobless has reached 12.5 million. From the way things are going, it looks like Filipino workers in America are in peril because of the rising unemployment rate all over the United States with the exception of Louisiana. Because of the crisis, people have been leaving their hometowns looking for jobs elsewhere.

In fact when I was in New York the other day, the limousine driver of one of our associates told us that a couple of months ago, New York — one of the busiest cities in the world — felt like a ghost town. Everything was so bleak, jobs were lost almost every day. Rooms that were at a high of $450 went down to as low as $99 for a while.

Despite the crisis, the US continues to import foreign workers at an average of 138,000 a month — feeding the resentment of jobless Americans who feel that foreigners are stealing the work meant for them. An entry in a popular blog site by a group advocating immigration limits even said: “How can [it] make any sense for the American people’s own government to be recruiting more competitors for a dwindling number of jobs? Month after month as hundreds of thousands of Americans lose their jobs, the feds keep pumping another 140,000 new foreign workers into the labor force.”

Barack Obama had promised “American jobs for Americans” during the campaign, pushing for more incentives to companies that would keep their operations within the US — which in turn sent nervous jitters down the spine of call center/Business Process Outsourcing industry practitioners in countries like the Philippines and India.

A few days ago, international news organizations bannered Obama’s remarks during a healthcare summit where he said, “The notion that we would have to import nurses makes absolutely no sense,” in response to an observation by California Congresswoman Lois Capps that the US faces a huge shortage of nurses.

The US has been relying on medical personnel from the Philippines, China and India to fill the shortage. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a shortage of one million registered nurses by 2010. Last year, US hospitals had vacancies for 116,000 nurses, with an estimated need for 2.8 million new nurses by 2010. A few weeks ago, the US introduced the Emergency Nursing Supply Relief Act of 2009 to address the shortage by lifting visa caps for nurses, pegging the yearly limit at 50,000. The World Health Organization estimates that 250,000 Filipino nurses have already relocated to the US, the UK and other western countries.

Despite the “Sentosa” controversy involving Filipino nurses (recruited by the Sentosa Recruitment Agency) who left their jobs due to poor working conditions and were in turn slapped with a $50-million civil suit, hospitals and nursing homes still prefer Filipino nurses because they are hardworking, patient, agree to lesser pay (despite federal laws requiring immigrant nurses to get the same pay to prevent undercutting of American workers’ salaries) and do not overly complain about rendering unscheduled overtime and doing the work of nursing aides at times. On the other hand, Americans are more particular in everything — from the number of work hours to overtime to the specific work they have to render.

Obama thinks it preposterous to employ foreign nurses, yet there are not enough Americans to fill the gap. Even the plan to train more Americans to do nursing jobs will take a long time, especially because only a few want to become nursing faculty because the pay is low. Experts agree that any healthcare reform plan will not be possible without addressing the nurses’ shortfall — which puts Obama in a Catch-22 situation since hospitals are trying to reduce costs by retrenching staff while addressing problems brought about by the increasing number of patients who need medical care but are unable to pay their bills because of the crisis.

In fact, even giant pharmaceutical firms like Merck and Schering Plough will be cutting 16,000 jobs despite plans for a merger. The same goes with Pfizer’s plan to buy Wyeth which will result in 8,000 job cuts. Meantime, there are reports that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America want the Philippines to be penalized for passing the Cheaper Medicines Law authored by Mar Roxas which allows the parallel importation of patented medicines at cheaper prices. Congressman Ed Gullas however downplays the report, saying that even the US is contemplating the importation of cheaper medicines from other countries like Canada.

Now more than ever, the Philippines will have to stop its dependence on overseas Filipino workers. While OFWs are our number one export, we have to remember they won’t be around forever. Government has to come up with creative solutions to address the problem of joblessness in the country. Filipinos must envision the future five or 10 years down the road because of the changing mood in America and perhaps all over the world — which could put Filipino workers in peril.

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I received an e-mail from publicist Joan Orendain about Time correspondent Nelly Sindayen who is now in a coma at the San Juan de Dios Hospital. It was shocking to hear of the condition of Nelly, a good friend of ours who had been actively participating in MOPC forums. We pray she would recover soon. Any of her media colleagues who want to help may get in touch with Joan or the MOPC secretariat.

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E-mail: babeseyeview@yahoo.com
View previous articles of this column.


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