Help OFWs cope with Saudization plan, government urged
The overseas recruitment sector on Sunday called on the Philippine government to help Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia who will be affected under the third phase of the nitaqat system, a job nationalization program introduced in the kingdom in June.
Beginning Sunday, Filipinos and other migrants working in Saudi companies under the “red” category have until February 23 next year to transfer, even without the consent of their current employers, to companies under the “green” category, otherwise, their work permits would not be renewed upon expiry.
In September, Saudi companies were classified according to the percentage of Saudi citizens they are required to employ under the job nationalization policy. A company in the “green” category means excellent compliance; “yellow” partial compliance; and “red” signifies no compliance with the nitaqat.
On Saturday, companies under the “red” category that had not increased their Saudi employees would face closure.
Companies under the “yellow” category have until February next year to turn “green,” otherwise the work permits of their foreign workers who have been in the kingdom for six years would not be renewed. Such workers, however, would be allowed to stay longer if they transfer to a “green” company.
1.2 million Filipinos affected
“The third phase of the nitaqat is where our 1.2 million overseas Filipino workers will be affected as their companies, which either belong to the red or yellow categories, are required to comply with the nationalization program,” recruitment expert Emmanuel Geslani said in a statement.
Geslani, who is a consultant for several Manila-based recruitment agencies, noted that there had been various estimates as to how many OFWs would be affected by the nitaqat. One migrant group placed the number at around 300,000, while the Department of Labor and Employment estimates only around 90,000.
“But whatever the number, the government should take steps now to help those who will be displaced,” he said, warning that those unable to find jobs might remain and become undocumented workers, or be victimized by human-trafficking syndicates sending workers to countries where OFW deployment is banned by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
‘Disclose nitaqat status’
Migration specialist Lito Soriano, a former OFW in Saudi Arabia, called on the POEA to require Filipino recruitment agencies to disclose the nitaqat status of the Saudi employers they are dealing with.
“The Saudi employers should list the OFWs under their employ and the status of their work permits, including when these permits would expire,” Soriano said.
The nitaqat is part of the Saudization process approved by King Abdullah to provide employment to about four million jobless young Saudi citizens, many of whom have been clamoring for economic and political reforms amid the Arab Spring movement that has sprung up around the Middle East and North Africa.
Companies with nine or fewer employees, as well as domestic help, are not covered by the nitaqat.
Citing Saudi government data, Geslani said there were more than nine million migrant workers in Saudi Arabia: Two million domestics, another two million working in companies with fewer than 10 employees, and five million working in firms with more than 10 workers which are covered by the nitaqat.
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