Life on hold for millions of Philippine migrant workers

Life on hold for millions of Philippine migrant workers
As the Philippine government gradually re-opens the economy it has begun to allow workers to slowly start to travel overseas again. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 July 2020

Life on hold for millions of Philippine migrant workers

Life on hold for millions of Philippine migrant workers
  • More than 92,000 overseas employees have been repatriated after losing their jobs abroad

MANILA: He had a visa and just the job — six months of work at sea and thousands in pay to send home. Then the coronavirus struck.

And like millions of other migrant workers who leave the Philippines to work abroad and send their earnings back to dependents, a whole family saw its lifeline cut.

“I was broke. Things were not easy for me and my family. I badly needed to go back to work at that time so I was looking forward to that trip,” said sailor Carlos Salvador Jr.

Salvador was all set to go to Spain for a six-month stint aboard a container ship when the Philippines imposed its strict lockdown in March, hoping to contain the coronavirus.

Since then, Salvador — who used to send about $2,000 a month home for two children and sick father — has been stuck in his home: A coastal village in central Philippines, with zero work.

“My world stopped spinning,” Salvador, 33, who has been a sailor for nine years, said from the Iloilo province.

His cousin, a deck officer on another ship, was similarly caught up in the lockdown and grounded.

“I lost my job, they have to look somewhere else for a crew replacement,” Salvador said.

Millions of overseas Filipino workers such as Salvador are breadwinners who regularly send money home, in remittances that account for nearly 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

But hundreds of thousands were likely to lose their jobs this year, cutting an important lifeline for many poor families.

About 10 million Filipinos work or live overseas, official figures show, spread across North America, Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia such as Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Remittances by overseas Filipino workers reached a record high of $33.5 billion last year, according to the central bank.

But as global coronavirus cases keep climbing, up to 400,000 Filipino overseas workers were projected to lose their jobs or take a pay cut this year, according to the Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development, a local think-tank.

“This year’s projected remittance totals may be the steepest in Philippine, 45-year migration history,” said Jeremaiah Opiniano, an expert on remittances at the think tank.

“The Philippines needs these remittances more than ever. They have proven to be an added boost to the positive Philippine economic story the past decade, and have helped the country elude negative impacts of financial crises,” he added.

The Philippine central bank has said remittances, a key driver of consumption, will drop 5 percent this year on the 2019 total, after chalking up a 3 percent drop in the first four months of 2020.

Globally, the World Bank said remittances worldwide are set to fall by about 20 percent — or $142 billion — this year, worse than in the 2009 financial crisis.

Such a loss would cut a crucial lifeline to many families, as one in nine people globally benefitted from international remittances in 2019, according to the UN.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who headed the country’s national task force on the coronavirus response, said that more than 92,000 overseas workers had been repatriated after losing their jobs abroad, most of them seafarers.

Another 200,000 Filipino workers are stranded in dozens of countries and on merchant ships waiting to get home. “We have been sending them back to their home provinces after spending some days in quarantine,” Lorenzana said.

“We wanted to make sure they are virus-free. We have also provided them a cash assistance of $200 to help them start anew,” the official told an online seminar.

As the government gradually re-opens the economy, it has started to allow overseas workers, mostly seafarers aboard merchant vessels, to travel again.

It has also eased a ban on nurses and health workers to go overseas, allowing those with existing contracts to go

Back in his village in Iloilo, Salvador has started fishing for income, besides using his meagre savings and the $200 in aid he received from the government after losing his job.

“It’s not enough but it’s better than having none,” he said.

Salvador is luckier than many.

He has found a job on a new container ship and is set to leave by the end of July for a six-month job in the Caribbean.

Marden Domingo and his fiancee Jessica Rai Paulo, who both worked on a cruise ship pre-pandemic, must wait longer as falling demand and border closures hit cruise liners.

In Pangasinan province, north of Manila, the couple have pooled their government aid and opened a food delivery service, making noodle dishes they learned on the cruise ships.

But like Salvador, they wanted to travel and earn more.

“We’re just starting our small business, we’re just earning enough,” said Paulo, who served food on cruises for two years. 


Saudi vegetable traders accuse consumers over price increases

Saudi vegetable traders accuse consumers over price increases
Updated 29 min 17 sec ago

Saudi vegetable traders accuse consumers over price increases

Saudi vegetable traders accuse consumers over price increases
  • Consumers buy more than they need during Ramadan, traders said

RIYADH: Vegetable traders and wholesalers in Saudi Arabia have blamed over-buying by consumers for price rises during the first days of Ramadan.

Prices have now returned to normal after doubling in some cases following a flurry of purchases at the beginning of the holy month, they told Al Watan newspaper.

The increase in vegetable prices was limited to 6 or 7 local agricultural products, while imported product prices are fixed, they said. There is no shortage of vegetables in the Kingdom’s markets, they added.

“We witness the unjustified rush of consumers of double shopping that exceeds the actual need, every year with the advent of the holy month, not only for vegetables, but for various food products,” a vegetable merchant said.

A vegetable trader in the Kingdom said that citizens should maintain the usual consumption of vegetables in Ramadan to ensure the stability of prices. He said that most of the customers deliberately buy above their actual needs at the beginning of Ramadan, which causes increased demand and higher prices.

“The farmers and suppliers are the ones who set the price and cause it to rise when the demand from consumers increases, while our role does not exceed the disposal of the product with a small profit,” he said.

Consumers on the other hand accused traders, farmers and suppliers of unjustified price increases with the advent of Ramadan.


PIF’s Innovative Energy nears completion of ADES International acquisition

PIF’s Innovative Energy nears completion of ADES International acquisition
Updated 23 April 2021

PIF’s Innovative Energy nears completion of ADES International acquisition

PIF’s Innovative Energy nears completion of ADES International acquisition
  • Innovative Energy has acquired 98.6 percent of ADES shares
  • ADES to be delisted from LSE within 20 days

RIYADH: Public Investment Fund (PIF)-owned Innovative Energy Holding is close to completing its acquisition of UK-listed oil and gas services provider ADES International Holding.

The cash offer from Innovative Energy has been declared unconditional in all respects, ADES said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange on Thursday. Innovative Energy has acquired or contracted to acquire 98.6 percent of ADES International and is commencing the compulsory acquisition process to acquire the remainder of the ADES shares.

The offer price of $12.50 per share in cash for each ADES share values the existing issued share capital (excluding Treasury Shares) of ADES International at approximately $516 million.

Innovative Energy intends to apply a request to the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority to remove the listing of ADES shares from the official list, and it will also submit a request to the London Stock Exchange to cancel trading of ADES shares, which is anticipated to take effect about 20 business from 21 April.

ADES accepted Innovative Energy’s $516 million offer to take it private in early March.

Following the completion of the transaction, ADES Investments Holding will own 57.5 percent of Innovative Energy, PIF will own 32.5% and Zamil Group Investment will hold 10 percent.

ADES International will move its operational headquarters to Saudi Arabia from the UAE, CEO Mohamed Farouk said in the statement.

“The partnership will create a national champion in Saudi Arabia in a critical part of the upstream value chain, said PIF Head of Local Holding Investments Division Yazeed Alhumied.

“Alongside the creation of significant employment opportunities in the Kingdom, this will help localize best-in-class practice and lead to the important knowledge transfer of fuel usage reduction technologies which can deliver both cost savings and environmental benefits,” he said.


Egypt introduces minimum hotel room rates

Egypt introduces minimum hotel room rates
Updated 23 April 2021

Egypt introduces minimum hotel room rates

Egypt introduces minimum hotel room rates
  • Minimum rates will apply to 4-star and 5-star hotels
  • Rates will be enforced from November 2021

RIYADH: Egypt has set minimum room rates for 4-star and 5-star hotels as it aims to improve the quality of services offered to tourists.

Guests at 4-star hotels must be charged at least $25 per person per night, while 5-star hotels must charge $40 or more, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Dr. Khaled Al-Anani said, Al Arabiya reported citing a ministerial statement.

The decision is scheduled to take effect from November 1, 2021.

Egypt’s tourism revenues fell by about 69 percent during the past year as international travel was curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.


Miners seek gold under the desert sands after Egypt changes rules

Miners seek gold under the desert sands after Egypt changes rules
Updated 23 April 2021

Miners seek gold under the desert sands after Egypt changes rules

Miners seek gold under the desert sands after Egypt changes rules
  • Five firms have signed gold exploration contracts
  • Government seeking $1 billion of investment annually

CAIRO: Mining companies awarded blocks in Egypt’s Eastern Desert are set to start exploring for gold under a legislative overhaul that seeks eventually to unlock vast untapped mineral resources.
Despite plentiful reserves and a rich mining history that gave rise to elaborate Pharaonic gold jewelry, Egypt has just one commercial gold mine in operation. Foreign investment in oil and gas has grown, but mining has languished.
Now, the country is banking on high gold prices and amended mining laws that scrap red tape and a profit-sharing rule, unpopular in the industry, to lure interest.
One year after launching its first bid round under the new rules, it has so far clinched five gold exploration contracts in a first bidding round and kept the tendering system rolling as it tries to build momentum.
The government is looking to attract $1 billion in annual investments in mining, a target industry sources say could be within reach.
“Success is ultimately going to be measured by how many mines are going to be discovered and advanced to production,” said Patrick Barnes, Head of Metals & Mining Consulting EMEARC at Wood Mackenzie, which advised Egypt’s government on its mining law reforms.
“Early indicators show us that this bid round was much better than the ones held previously.”
In its initial tender, Egypt in November awarded 82 exploration blocks to what metals analysts say is a healthy mix of 11 companies, ranging from junior explorers to industry giants such as Barrick Gold.
The blocks on offer are in the Arabian-Nubian shield geological formation, which flanks the Red Sea and is believed to be one of the most mineral rich areas in the world.
Egypt’s mining drive is still at an early stage.
UK-based Altus Strategies told Reuters it was looking to build up its technical team and conduct remote sensing and mapping operations on the 1,500 square kilometers of land it has been awarded before starting exploration.
It expects to invest several million dollars in the short term but that could rise above $100-$200 million if a economic discovery is made.
A spokeswoman for Canada-based B2Gold, which also won concessions, said the company was looking forward to starting exploration soon “given the relative under-investment in modern exploration, and therefore untapped potential in the historically prospective Arabian-Nubian Shield.”
Mining firms welcomed the elimination of a requirement to form joint ventures with the Egyptian government, and the capping of state royalties at 20 percent.
However, the retention of a tendering process for exploration blocks limits the chances of any gold boom, said Sami El Raghy, Chairman of Australia-based Nordana.
“No other successful mining countries use this process. They all have a clear transparent mining laws stipulating the qualification, obligations and the rights of investors. (They) work on the principle first come, first served,” said El Raghy, who was also a founder of Egypt’s first and only commercial gold mine, Sukari.
The Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources declined to comment.
On average, a mining project goes from discovery to production in 10-15 years. While gold prices have eased after reaching a record in 2020, economists expect they will remain high by historical standards over coming years.
“If you get to a point where several discoveries are made, Egypt could be one of the largest gold producers in Africa ... It had top-tier potential,” said Steven Poulton, CEO of Altus Strategies.
Environmental campaigners, however, say there is no justification for gold mining. It generates emissions, can add to water-stress and in contrast to copper and battery minerals is not in demand from technologies that can bring about a low carbon economy.
The government has said it is open to other minerals, but gold is the focus for now.
“Gold is absolutely the best thing for them to start with, because there’s a known amount of it,” said Wood Mackenzie’s Barnes.
“Egypt has immense potential for mining copper and gold and other commodities. The biggest concern in the industry is lack of supply for copper, places like Egypt which are considered under explored and high potential are going to get a lot of attention if they can maintain investment conditions,” he added.


Dubai denies rumors it issued gambling licenses

Dubai denies rumors it issued gambling licenses
Updated 23 April 2021

Dubai denies rumors it issued gambling licenses

Dubai denies rumors it issued gambling licenses
  • Dubai issues statement through its Twitter account
  • Rumors claimed gambling would begin in Dubai during Eid

RIYADH: Dubai denied social media reports that the emirate has issued gambling licenses to some hotels.

“What was circulated on some social media platforms about issuing permits for some establishments in Dubai to engage in gambling activity are just unfounded rumors,” the Dubai Government Media Office said on its Twitter account on Thursday.

The statement was issued in response to rumors that several hotels in Dubai had obtained permits for gambling and would begin offering it on Eid Al-Fitr.

Under UAE law, gambling or any activity thing that disturbs the public morals can be punished by imprisonment and fines ranging from 250,000 dirhams to 500,000 dirhams.