MANILA, Philippines?As the global financial storm blows fear through Asia?s stock markets and countries like Singapore slip into recession, Filipino maids worry about losing their jobs.
Christy Arciaga is jittery?even though she does not own any corporate stocks.
Her businessman employer in Singapore has lately become more irritable as he has watched his investments being swallowed in a sea of red ink, and the 46-year-old domestic helper is often on the receiving end of his bad moods.
?My employer would turn on the television every morning to check the latest stock market report even before breakfast. He is often angry and tells me he might send me home even before my contract ends,? Arciaga said.
She said the thought of going back was causing her sleepless nights. ?What about my family? Two of my children are still in college,? she said.
About 150,000 women, many of them from the Philippines, work as maids in Singapore, according to an Agence France-Presse report in 2006.
In 2007, the Philippines deployed a total of 49,431 workers to Singapore, part of the 1.08 million Filipinos who went overseas for work that year. Across the globe, there are some 8 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
A recession in the United States, Europe and Japan would cause many of these OFWs to lose their jobs. Besides Singapore, France, Ireland and New Zealand are now officially in recession, defined as two quarters of negative growth.
The global financial crisis has prompted the Philippine government to prepare a contingency plan for OFWs who may be affected by the crisis.
Thousands of migrant workers, among them maids, restaurant staff and laborers working in wealthy Asian cities, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, are worried that an economic slowdown and retrenchments resulting from the crisis could hit their employers? pockets, and leave them without jobs.
This would mean that the flow of remittances they send home to their poor families will dry up?and with it money for food, clothing and school fees.
Another maid in Singapore, Myra Catacutan, 34, said she recently heard her employer angrily talking on the phone with someone, presumably a financial adviser, demanding her money back.
?My employer was shouting to the one on the other line: ?Give me back my money.? When she turned to me, she was teary-eyed and told me she could lose a big amount,? Catacutan said. ?I am worried she might let me go.?
William Gois, regional coordinator of the non-government organization Migrant Forum in Asia, said any massive retrenchment would worsen poverty in the migrants? home countries.
Dependent on remittances
?Families dependent on (overseas) remittances will find now that nothing is coming in and it might further aggravate the poverty situation,? Gois said by telephone from Manila.
The Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, which are key exporters of human labor, would be most affected, he said.
The Philippine central bank has said money sent home by Filipinos working abroad totaled $9.6 billion for the first seven months of the year and is expected to hit a record $15.9 billion for the whole of 2008.
Another problem is the large numbers of migrant workers without proper documents in Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.
?In times of an economic slump, the first thing that governments do is crack down on undocumented workers because they are seen as a burden on the economy and a problem to society,? Gois said.
He said there were more than 53 million migrant workers from Asia employed worldwide, mostly in the Gulf countries and the Middle East. Many are low and middle skilled laborers.
While there have been no reports so far of large layoffs, workers interviewed by Agence France-Presse said they were worried.
?Of course I am afraid,? a Bangladeshi worker said in between drilling with a jackhammer near a suburban housing complex. ?I don?t understand much about the reason for the crisis but I?m just concerned my company will be affected.?
In Singapore, sending home a maid could save a household at least US$407 a month.
Many of those who employ maids also dabble in stocks and other financial products whose value has been eroded because of the turmoil.
With foreign visitor arrivals in Singapore falling for the third straight month in August, there could be retrenchments in restaurants and shops, which employ many Filipinos and mainland Chinese.
Any slowdown in the construction sector would affect thousands of migrant laborers from Bangladesh, India, Burma, Thailand and China.
Filipinos in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, which is home to 150,000 Filipinos mostly employed as maids and in bars and restaurants, worries about fallout from the crisis have already begun to resonate through the tight-knit community.
?Migrant workers are very worried,? said Eman Villanueva, secretary general of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, a migrant rights group.
?They are first of all concerned about their jobs. Most of the people in Hong Kong who employ domestic workers will have investments or are facing potential job losses because of the financial crisis.?
Villanueva said that many migrants were also concerned about the safety of their own investments.
?Many have paid for education insurance to make sure their children are able to go to university, or into a pension. They are worried about what will happen to their money,? he said. Agence France-Presse and Inquirer Research