The Philippine government should actively push for free trade in services following the decision of the Ministry of Labor of Saudi Arabia that it would cease issuing new work permits to domestic helpers from the Philippines due to disagreements over wage conditions, Senator Chiz Escudero said.
The new policy, which also includes househelps from Indonesia, will not only affect the employment of new hires but could also potentially displace domestic workers already deployed in Saudi Arabia.
“The government, together with other similarly situated countries, should push for free trade in services and not only goods as part of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS),” Escudero said.
The GATS was crafted by members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) envisioned to liberalize services in the public domain for mutual gains in goods and services. Trade in services thus should include the ability to supply, or at least be the preferred source of human capital given a country’s advantage and competitiveness in certain skills.
The senator said that the move by Saudi Arabia is a form of “nationalization” or better known in this oil-rich kingdom in the Middle East as “Saudization”, which aim is to develop and utilize its own workforce.
Escudero, who has been pushing for the creation of a comprehensive labor export policy, put to task the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to immediately pursue trade and job matching opportunities for overseas workers.
“In the absence of a labor export policy, which I really think the government should seriously consider, we must brace ourselves in the event that this move by Saudi Arabia becomes a trend in other land-base deployments. It is high time that our labor department invests in research to forecast employment trends so that we can better plan and model employment opportunities for our expatriate labor force,” Escudero explained.
Records from the POEA show that 44 percent of overseas Filipino workers deployed to the Middle East are bound for Saudi Arabia, making this country the fourth top destination of all deployed domestic workers, and the 3rd largest source of OFW remittances.
“It is high time that the government officially recognize we have a labor export so that policies for better working conditions and status for our overseas workers can be crafted and negotiated under a government-to-government agreement,” Escudero added.