• Melo Acuna

ILO says COVID-19 creates "a crisis within a crisis"

Migrant workers forced to return home due to COVID-19; PH government pursues repatriation

MANILA – The Geneva-based International Labour Organization expressed concern over tens of millions of migrant workers compelled to return home due to the COVID-19 pandemic after losing their jobs are now currently unemployed and will likely face poverty in their respective home countries.

In a statement released earlier today, ILO said as containment measures ease, millions of migrant workers may be required to return home t low and middle income countries where labor markets which were long fragile even before the pandemic struck, are further weakened by the additional strain of high levels of unemployment and serious business disruptions. Their families are bound to suffer financially from the loss of remittances regularly sent home.

In the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported the repatriation of 55,468 overseas workers. The government agency said 30,741 seafarers have disembarked from their ships and have been sent home while 24,727 land-based workers were also affected by the pandemic.

In a previous interview, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin E. Diokno said he expects a reduction of at least 10% from last year’s personal remittances which reached US$33.5 billion and cash remittances of US$30.1 billion.

However, Overseas Workers Welfare Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said his records revealed 60,000 Filipino migrant workers have returned to the country as of today.

Migrant workers who have been stranded in their host countries sans access to social protection and little money for food and accommodation. The ILO said even those with work may have been taking reduced wages and living in cramped worksite residences where social distancing is impossible, placing them at greater risk of contracting the virus. The ILO said many migrant workers, particularly women, are doing essential jobs for their host societies during the pandemic, in the agricultural sectors, those in other sectors have lost their jobs or may have settled to working informally.

“This is a potential crisis within a crisis,” according to Manuel Tomei, Director of the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Equality Department. He said they know millions of migrant workers who were under lockdown in their worksites, have lost their jobs and are expected to return home to countries saddled with weak economies and rising unemployment.

“Cooperation and planning are keys to avert a worse crisis,” he added. It has been reported there are 164 million migrant workers worldwide, nearly have of them women, comprising 4.7 per cent of the global labour force. Though not all of these workers will return home after losing their jobs or for other reasons, informal ILO research in ore than 20 countries indicates that many millions are expected to do so.

ILO said most of their home countries have very limited scope to reintegrate such large numbers, and more often do not have policies and systems in place to ensure effective labour migration governance and smooth reintegration plans, including skills development and recognition. Asian and African countries expect millions of migrant workers to return whether through compulsion or voluntarily, as their job prospects evaporate.

ILO has its briefing and policy documents on the impact of COVID-19 on migrant workers, refugees, or forcibly displaced persons and the potential for serious social and economic impact if returning overseas workers are not included in social protection measures or extended assistance to reintegrate into national labour markets.

It is said returning migrant workers bring skills and talent that can help their home economies rebuild better after the pandemic. However, ILO said to unlock this potential, there is a need to establish a rights-based and orderly return and reintegration systems, access to social protection, and proper skills recognition. This can facilitate better skills and job matching thereby increasing production for national industries.

“With the right policies, the return of these workers can be converted into a resource for recovery,” said Michelle Leighton, Chief of ILO’s Labor Migration Department. Migrant workers may bring knowledge and capital to open new businesses that can further improve employment opportunities.

Successful reintegration programs will reduce tensions in their home countries, where some communities may fear returning migrants may bring the virus or even take jobs away. Rebuilding the livelihood strategies of returning migrants will allow them to pay any depts related to their original recruitment abroad, avoiding the risk of forced labor and human trafficking or remigration through irregular pathways. (Melo M. Acuña)

DFA facilitates the repatriation of stranded Filipino workers worldwide. (DFA Photo)

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