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

  • 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. 


Trump advisers urge delisting of US-listed Chinese companies that fail to meet audit standards

Updated 5 min 33 sec ago

Trump advisers urge delisting of US-listed Chinese companies that fail to meet audit standards

  • Growing pressure to crack down on Chinese companies that avail themselves of US capital markets but do not comply with rules
WASHINGTON: Trump administration officials have urged the president to delist Chinese companies that trade on US exchanges and fail to meet US auditing requirements by January 2022, Securities and Exchange Commission and Treasury officials said on Thursday.
The remarks came after President Donald Trump tasked a group of key advisers, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, with drafting a report with recommendations to protect US investors from Chinese companies whose audit documents have long been kept from US regulators.
It also comes amid growing pressure from Congress to crack down on Chinese companies that avail themselves of US capital markets but do not comply with US rules faced by American rivals.
“We are simply leveling the playing field, holding Chinese firms listed in the US to the same standards as everyone else,” a Treasury official told reporters in a briefing call about the report.
The US Senate unanimously passed legislation in May that could prevent some Chinese companies from listing their shares on US exchanges unless they follow standards for US audits and regulations.
Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, who sponsored the bill described the recommendations as “an important first step,” but said that “without the added teeth of our bill, this report alone does not implement the requirements necessary to protect everyday American investors.”
The administration’s recommendations, if implemented via an SEC rulemaking process, would give Chinese companies already listed in the United States until Jan. 1, 2022, to ensure the US auditing watchdog, known as the PCAOB, has access to their audit documents.
They can also provide a “co-audit,” for example, performed by a US parent company of the China-based affiliate tasked with auditing the Chinese firm. However, companies seeking to list in the United States for the first time will need to comply immediately, the officials said.
A State Department official told Reuters the administration plans soon to scrap a 2013 agreement between US and Chinese auditing authorities to set up a process for the PCAOB to seek documents in enforcement cases against Chinese auditors.
China said on Friday that the two countries have “good cooperation” in monitoring publicly listed firms.
“The current situation is that some US monitoring authorities are failing to comply with their obligations, and what they are doing is political manipulation — they are trying to force Chinese companies to delist from US markets,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a media briefing.
The PCAOB has long complained of China’s failure to grant requests, giving it scant insight on audits of Chinese firms that trade on US exchanges.
The report also recommends requiring greater disclosure by issuers and registered funds of the risk of investing in China, as well as mandating more due diligence by funds that track indexes and issuing guidance to investment advisers about fiduciary obligations surrounding investments in China.
The moves come amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over China’s handling of the coronavirus and its moves to curb freedoms in Hong Kong, among other issues.