Oil prices have sunk to below $30 a barrel, the lowest level in 12 years, before making a slight recovery amid a glut due to additional supply in the United States, refusal of the Oil Petroleum Exporting Countries to cut production and slowdown in China. The end of Western sanctions on Iran is expected to worsen the glut. Since 2014, the price has fallen to more than 70 percent.
This, then has caused the biggest budget suffer in Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s largest oil exporter. The kingdom employs 892,000 Filipinos, mostly in the oil industry, while the United Arab Emirates employs an additional 567,000.
According to Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, an estimated of 1.5M OFWs classified as temporary workers in the Middle East are likely to be the first to be displaced if the region’s oil industry starts to shed personnel idled by overcapacity. This is around 75% of the 2M OFWs in the Middle East.
With the threat of potential employment crisis, Pres. Aquino ordered labor officials to prepare measures to soften the impact.
Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., Presidential Communications said that the President had been informed of the possible job losses that may occur if low oil prices forced companies in the oil industry to cut costs and trim staff.
“As a contingency measure, the President has ordered the DOLE to draw up plans and come up with programs to address the issue, even if there is no indication yet that this is happening,” Coloma said in a press briefing with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and its agencies on Friday.
“The President is being very proactive on this so we will be prepared,” he also added.
Apart from the employment crisis in the oil industry, hospitality and retail sales industries, as well as facilities management also dropped its job orders in Dubai, UAE with almost 18 percent, Dubai labor officials said.
In Abu Dhabi, the Secretary Baldoz said, officials monitored an 82-percent decline in job orders in January from 85 job openings in the first week to only 16 in the fourth week. Thirty-two job contracts were terminated, but these were due to reasons ranging from redundancy to absenteeism, and the affected workers received end-of-service benefits.
Despite these retrenchments across the globe, Philippine labor officials said the crisis scenario involving massive job losses in the Middle East was far from happening.
The DOLE and its partner agencies have come up with menu of contingency measures in case a worst-case scenario would unfold.
“Using a scenario of 10-20 percent returning OFWs for the semi- and low-skilled category, there are available local jobs for them in construction, transport and the logistics sectors in the country if they wish to avail [themselves] of such,” she said.
The increasing pace of infrastructure project rollouts under the government’s public-private partnership (PPP) program, Baldoz said, offered potential employment for returning OFWs, particularly those in the semi-and low-skilled categories, especially in the construction sector.
“The PPP Center monitored 44,000 jobs created from the 12 PPP projects that have already been awarded,” the labor secretary said.
The Department of Labor and its partners also have existing programs that could help “retool” returning OFWs to address the current shortfall in service-related jobs available in the country.