Business & Economy

Plans readied to absorb returning OFWs

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Philippine corporations are seeking ways to help the country create new job opportunities for some 1.5 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who are at risk of being displaced out of the Middle East, which is reeling from a prolonged downturn in oil prices.

Leading soft drink bottler Coca-Cola FEMSA Philippines recently signed a partnership deal with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), citing the need to prepare the country for the potential repatriation of tens of thousands of OFWs in the Middle East.

The partnership between Coca-Cola and DOLE seeks to develop employment and livelihood programs for OFWs returning permanently to the country. Under the partnership, Coca-Cola FEMSA Philippines will work with the DOLE to provide skills training, job matching, business seminars and other possible employment opportunities across the company’s extensive value chain.

“Overseas Filipino workers have dedicated so much of themselves to help their families and have become an economic backbone of the country through their hard work and sacrifice. We are honored to have this opportunity to be of service to them,” said Fabricio Ponce, Coca-Cola FEMSA Asia division director.

Coca-Cola FEMSA Philippines operates 19 plants and close to 60 sales offices across the country, employing over 10,000 people.

Jeffrey Lim, executive vice president and chief finance officer at the country’s largest property developer SM Prime Holdings, said: “It is sufficient to say that we still have a lot of job vacancy available, and so do other companies. So, we feel that the local companies will be able to absorb some job displacements as long as there is support for domestic businesses.”

Judd Salas, a spokesperson for the Aboitiz Equity Ventures group, said: “We have no openings made specifically to address that problem, but we will certainly consider qualified applicants for our existing openings.”

It was earlier reported that up to 1.5 million Filipinos classified as temporary workers in the Middle East were at risk of displacement because of the oil slump that is now adversely affecting oil-exporting economies.

The DOLE has been tasked to draw up plans and come up with contingency programs for a possible influx of returning OFWs.

For an oil-importing country like the Philippines, the freefall in global oil prices has made fuel prices more affordable for car users, public utilities and airline operators. But the prolonged slump has started to worry economists especially as this could translate to as much as a $2-billion drop in remittances from the Middle East.

Bank of the Philippine Islands economist Emilio Neri Jr. said that if oil prices based on Brent and WTI crude benchmarks would remain low but at least within the $40 to $50 a barrel, the Philippines would be a net beneficiary. But if it falls to $20 a barrel and remains at such levels, the economist said the downside was bigger than the upside for the local economy because of the Middle East remittances.

New York-based think tank Global Source also earlier flagged the risk that the halving of oil prices and its impact on the economies in the Middle East - particularly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - might push its government to strictly enforce local hiring rules, specifically the “Saudization” policy, which mandates companies to fill up job requirements with local people.

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