Overseas Filipinos In Countries Under Recession Cut Expenses, But Maintain Level of Remittances To Cope Up With Global Economic Crisis

AHN Staff

Manila, Philippines (AHN) - Although Filipinos overseas - both contract workers and permanent migrants - comprise 10 percent of the total Philippine population of 80 million, they are not concentrated in a few countries, but spread in almost 170 nations.

The bulk, though are in countries ironically suffering from recession such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Japan. Since Filipino plantation workers started to work in Hawaii as pineapple farm workers a century ago, the migration of Filipinos continued over the years. However, until the mid 1970s, the U.S., because of its special relationship with the Philippines, continued to be the most popular destination of migrating Filipinos.

By the 1970s, Filipino nurses started to discover Britain as a work destination. When oil prices jumped during this decade, Middle Eastern nations used their petrodollars to build their economy and hired Filipino construction workers. By the 1980s other countries became popular destinations for Filipino migrant workers, including Japan for entertainers, Hong Kong for domestic helpers and New Zealand for IT professionals.

Collectively, the 8 million plus Filipinos overseas remit money to their families back home equivalent to 10 percent of the Philippines' gross national product. Since the bulk of Filipinos are in countries with recession or were severely affected by the global economic crisis, AHN asked Filipinos overseas how they are coping up with the tight conditions in their second countries and its effect on their remittances.

Michael Duque, a nurse in Britain and president of the Philippine Nurses Association in U.K., pointed out Overseas Filipino Workers in England generally have secure employment because they are in the health care sector. Although the sector also has budget cuts, jobs for nurses are still there.

Because of the effect of recession on the British currency, the pound, which has weakened, Duque and about 200,000 OFWs in Britain who are mostly nurses, have to send a slightly larger amount of pounds to maintain the peso equivalent monthly needed for his family's budget in the Philippines. Britain officially entered into a recession in late January after it registered two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth rates for the third and fourth quarters of 2008.

"I had to cut my unnecessary spending and increase my extra work load to compensate for the lower pesos-sterling pounds exchange rate," Duque said.

Information technology worker Josel Hizon, who works at the Georgia State University, said Filipinos who lost their jobs in the U.S. were laid off not because they were overseas contract workers, but because their offices have gone bankrupt or are downsizing. They are now part of the 3.6 million U.S. residents who lost their jobs the past year as joblessness rate in the United States hit 7.6 percent in January.

While Hizon still got a merit increase this year, she is not optimistic more would be forthcoming until the U.S. recovers from the recession. In the meantime, Hizon has to cope up with a decline in the value of her house, low interest rate on her savings because of several cuts in benchmark interest rates made by the Federal Reserve the past few months, higher prices of basic goods and a decline in the value of her 409k account.

Among the measures that Hizon has done to adjust to the harder times are to avoid going to the mall, use coupons to get discounts for her groceries and toiletries and to stay away from major purchases for home furnishing. She also plans to rent out some spare rooms in her house to earn extra. But like many Filipinos overseas, sharing in the family expenses is one of the reasons she migrated to the U.S., hence her remittance and occasional money gifts stay at their present level.

Like Hizon, Hazel Bautista, an employee of a biotech firm in California, has cut down on shopping, eating out and other leisure activities. She still regularly sends boxes of American goodies back home, but has cut it down from five times a year to only twice.

New Zealand suffered three straight quarters of negative growth rates in 2008, at 0.3 percent for Q1, 0.2 percent in Q2 and 0.4 percent in Q3. Fortunately, the country started to recover in the 4th quarter with a 1 percent GDP growth rate. Since a large number of the 20,000 Filipinos are contract workers like Rene Molina, they have fixed salary rates that protected them from pay cuts.

Molina, who teaches communication at the Waikatu University in Palmerston, said he has always been a thrifty person, but has to make further cuts in his spending to send money for his wife and three children's monthly expenses in the Philippines. Aside from him and his family in Quezon City having to adjust to the lower exchange rate, Molina is saving up so his family could join him this year in New Zealand.

The difficulty in finding better paying jobs in the Philippine has led a lot of Filipinos to acquire permanent residency or even citizenship in their second countries. Molina and Bautista no longer plan to return home, except for vacations. Duque is open to returning home if there is a good-paying job, while Hizon has plans come back, but only after she has retired. Hizon reasoned out, a retiree with a retirement fund in U.S. dollars would have an easier life in the Philippines because of the lower cost of living in Manila.

Gino Noche, a school employee in Hong Kong, scrapped plans of coming back to Manila to study because of the unfavorable currency conversion. His pay had literally become frozen since the 1999 Asian crisis despite the tiny pay increments he gets which are eaten up by inflation.

Like other single Filipino professionals in the Crown Colony, Noche cuts on weekend nights out, rents movies instead of watching it in a regular cinema and reduced shopping for luxury items.

The responses of these five Filipinos could be considered typical of Philippine residents working or living in foreign lands. Raised up in a country where life was hard, they could easily tighten their belts not just because the economic atmosphere is not favorable in their second home, but more importantly because their economic links with their mother land has not been severed.

By trying their best to maintain their level of remittance or even sending a bigger amount to make up for the weaker currency of the Philippine pesos and euro, pound and dollar, OFW remittance in 2009 is still expected to grow to $17.3 billion. But because of the effect of the slowdown in many western countries which will also affect some overseas Filipino workers, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas forecasts OFW remittance growth to slow down to six from nine percent this year from the $16.3 billion sent in 2008.

JP Morgan, however, projects a zero growth rate. In its latest report, the U.S. investment bank said despite the global economic crisis, OFW remittances will not contract since 65 percent of Filipinos deployed the past decade - like Molina, Hizon, Bautista, Noche and Duque - are employed in the service and professional industries which are less economically sensitive and more resilient to the global slow down.

Philippines leaders back the quality of their nurses

The Philippines Government is calling on the Nursing Council not to reject Filipino nurses with qualifications they completed in less than four years.

Consul General Marcos Punsalang said embassy representatives, including the ambassador, met the Nursing Council after receiving complaints from Filipinos facing registration difficulties here to reassure it of the "high quality and strict standards" of nursing programmes in the Philippines.

"Regardless of whether nursing graduates are doing it as a first course, or second course where they complete it in less than four years, they all go through the same examinations and the same strict standards," said Mr Punsalang.

There were 26,000 Filipinos in New Zealand, between 300 and 500 working as nurses, Mr Punsalang said.

Hundreds of other qualified nurses from the country are waiting to receive their registration so they can seek employment.

The Philippines Government is pushing to place more workers overseas as fears that as many as 800,000 people in the country could lose their jobs this year because of the global financial crisis.

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"Times are hard now, and the global economy is in recession," said Mr Punsa-ang.

"Holding a job anywhere is hard, and getting employed becomes all the more important, which is why we have to fight hard to ensure that Filipinos living overseas are also in employment."

The Philippines is one of the world's leading sources of skilled and unskilled workers, with up to nine million, or about 10 per cent of the population, living and working in 140 countries, including New Zealand.

In the first 11 months of last year alone, these workers have sent home US$15 billion ($28 billion), contributing about 10 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.

The Nursing Council says the number of nursing students in the Philippines has boomed from 30,000 in 2004 to 450,000 last year, and it is concerned at the effect the rapid growth has had on the quality of the training programmes.

Health group hits Arroyo’s ‘rural nurses’ program

The government should offer long-term solutions, not knee-jerk reactions, to the financial crisis currently affecting the economy, a group of health professionals said Tuesday.

Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) Secretary General Geneve Rivera said short-term measures such as temporary and low-paying jobs will only cause bigger problems not only for workers, but also for the economy.

“The government should offer jobs which can actually provide for the daily needs of Filipinos and their families. It’s not enough that they only provide jobs. It’s not enough to give temporary and low-paying jobs for workers. Because at the end of the day, the problem will go back,” Rivera said in an interview at ABS-CBN’s “Umagang Kay Ganda.”

Rivera made the statement in response to President Arroyo’s launch on Monday of the Nurses Assigned in Rural Areas (NARS) program, which will provide employment to nurses from six months to one year in various provinces.

“It only provides temporary jobs for nurses. They are only given six months to one year to work. After that period, they won’t have jobs again, and the provinces will again lack nurses and health care professionals,” she said.

In the Multi-Sectoral Jobs Summit at the Heroes Hall in Malacañang, President Arroyo said the NARS program mainly targets fresh nursing graduates who have passed the board examination but lack work experience to find jobs abroad. 

Those who will be hired under the program, the President said, will each receive P8,000 from the national government aside from a P2,000 stipend given by local governments to rural nurses. However, Rivera said such compensation is not enough for the qualified nurses.

“Our nurses will be getting very low wages. According to the Nursing Act of 2002, a nurse’s beginning salary should be P15,000 or salary grade 15. The government’s offer is P8000 from the national government, and a P2000 stipend from the local government. It’s way too low. And we all know that the local government doesn’t have enough budget to provide compensation,” she said.

Pay cuts proposed to beat crisis

Meanwhile, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) President Edgardo Lacson expressed optimism towards the government’s measures to ease the effects of the global economic downturn.

“The PCCI has always said that the solution (to this crisis) is not just one magic pill that applies to all companies. Our approach here is company to company, since they are faced with different situations. What’s important is it (summit) provokes and inspires people to think of the problem together,” Lacson said.

“Other things discussed in the summit may not be applicable to other companies, but there are a lot of good proposals which we can make use of. One of them is Vice President Noli de Castro’s proposal to use the P80-billion stimulus fund from his housing project,” he added.

Aside from stimulus packages, Lacson proposed wage cuts as a way to prevent massive layoffs, a measure which would not need government intervention.

“Wages should be cut from the company president to the rank-and-file. That’s on the part of management. Owners should momentarily stop getting dividends, or at least reduce what they’re getting this year to help the company. For employees who can afford to contribute to their company, they can cut their wages or opt for job rotation. There are many ways, each company can come up with its own way of coping with the crisis,” he said.

“But there are a lot of proposals from the communique which could be copied and used. What’s good is that the government has allotted almost P6 billion for a livelihood fund. It may not be enough, but it would certainly be helpful,” he added.

AIDS China's deadliest infectious disease: govt

A Chinese man flies an AIDS "red ribbon" kite by the National Olympic Stadium during an event to commemorate World AIDS Day, in Beijing in November 2008. AIDS has become China's deadliest infectious disease for the first time, the government said, with figures showing at least one person died on average every hour in the first nine months of last year.

AIDS has become China's deadliest infectious disease for the first time, the government said, with figures showing at least one person died on average every hour in the first nine months of last year.

AIDS overtook tuberculosis and rabies as the country's number one disease killer in 2008, the health ministry said in a report released on Tuesday.

Although full-year figures were not released, the ministry said the 6,897 people who died from AIDS from January to September made it the deadliest infectious disease.

It said 34,864 people had died from AIDS since it was first detected in China in the 1980s. A total of 264,302 people were confirmed to have contracted the HIV virus that leads to AIDS, the report said.

However those figures are a vast underestimate of the true picture, as the tally refers only to confirmed incidents of the condition.

China actually had an estimated 700,000 HIV/AIDS carriers in 2007, with an estimated 85,000 people infected that year, according to the ministry.

New Zealand fears over Filipino nurse training

The Nursing Council is concerned that the rapid increase in nursing programmes in the Philippines could be at the expense of the quality of nursing, and says it will raise the issue with Filipino authorities.

Chief executive Carolyn Reed says representatives of the council will travel to the Philippines to meet the nursing regulatory authority and educational providers because it needs to be satisfied that educational courses preparing nurses coming to New Zealand are meeting acceptable standards.

"We do have concerns about the effect that such rapid growth has on programme quality," Ms Reed said.

"There has been an escalation of programmes offering nursing education in the Philippines.

"Some figures suggest that in 2004 there were 30,000 nurses in education programmes and this has risen to 450,000 last year."

Many in the Philippines take a nursing degree as a second tertiary qualification because they think that with the global shortage of nurses, it could be their ticket to migration.

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The council, which governs nursing registration here, has already made it tougher for overseas-trained nurses to register here by raising the English language test standards and generally not recognising courses of less than four years duration, which comes as a blow to most Filipino-trained nurses.

If they were taking nursing as a second course, the course duration was reduced because they were exempt from certain subjects which often meant completing their programmes in two to three years, instead of four.

"The proliferation of programmes and the proliferation of providers in the Philippines have meant that we have had considerable difficulty assessing the adequacy of the theory and practice content of the programmes of the nurses applying [to work in New Zealand], in order to establish that they have met educational equivalence," Ms Reed said.

But Agnes Granada, of the Migrant Action Trust, accused the Nursing Council of being discriminatory by targeting Filipino nurses.

"There are good nurses and there are bad nurses that come from every country, and it is unfair that they are criticising nursing programmes in the Philippines without any valid reason," Ms Granada said.

"In fact, I think it's in our nature to be caring, and I think that alone would make Filipino nurses much better than many who come from elsewhere."

Ms Granada said the Nursing Council's trip to the Philippines would be "a waste of time". It was also "a waste of talent" for the council to make it tough for nurses to register at a time when hospitals here were facing an acute shortage of nursing staff.

Geoff Annals, chief executive of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, says he supports the council's trip to assess the new programmes in the Philippines, but is

"anxious that it isn't seen as a problem with [Filipino] nurses, because there are many excellent nurses that are working in New Zealand who are from the Philippines".

"We don't want to see similar nurses being obstructed from coming."

Life And Style: Wanted Caregivers

Japan’s nursing-care business is one of the high-growth sectors thanks to its rapidly ageing population. In five years’ time, the industry will require another 300,000 to 500,000 more workers.

Although there are jobs galore in Japan’s nursing-care business, there are few takers.

Low pay and working conditions that often stretch a caregiver’s patience and stamina to the limit scare away even those who view welfare work as a personal calling.

Ironically, the global downturn that has chilled Japanese exports and sent thousands of factory workers to unemployment lines may prove to be a godsend to nursing homes.

The government hopes to entice some of these retrenched workers to become caregivers. By March, the end of the Japanese fiscal year, about 80,000 factory workers are expected to be out of work, and more could join them if the economy worsens.

Japan’s nursing-care business is one of the high-growth sectors thanks to its rapidly ageing population. There are now about 1.1 million people working in the industry.

But in five years’ time, it is projected that the industry will require another 300,000 to 500,000 more workers. That is because the number of elderly Japanese requiring nursing-care services will rise to six million, up 1.5 million from the present figure.

The problem is how to make a caregiver’s job more attractive.

The government has set aside about 210 billion yen (US$2.3 billion) in this year’s budget to increase insurance payments to nursing-care providers by an average of 3%.

In theory, that should give each nursing-care worker a monthly pay hike of about 20,000 yen (US$224). Unfortunately, providers are not obliged to translate the increase in insurance payments into higher salaries.

Nurses cautious about expanding role of physician assistants

Several provinces are looking at physician assistants as a way to shorten patient wait times, but a nursing group says there is no place for them in the Canadian health care system.

Physician assistants have been used in the military for decades, and they work in many hospitals and clinics in the U.S. They work under a doctor's supervision, doing everything from filling out paperwork to prescribing medication to surgical procedures.

Manitoba came up with a plan to fast track surgeries using physician assistants in 2003. One surgeon works on overlapping operations in two rooms, with two teams of anesthetists, nurses and physician assistants.

Jose Araneta is one of 55 clinical assistants, as they are known in Manitoba. Araneta said when he started working, they were doing three knee replacement surgeries a day about twice a week, and the waiting list was about 28 months.

Now, "we usually get seven, eight cases done by 3:45," Araneta said.
Pilot project in Ontario

Officials at Ontario's health ministry saw what was happening in Manitoba and started a pilot project to see how physician assistants could fit into its system.

"This is another way that they can get highly qualified care when they need it, where they need it, as part of receiving care from a team," said Dr. Joshua Tepper, an assistant deputy health minister in Ontario.

The idea is meeting with resistance, however, from the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario. The group said Ontario should be training more nurse practitioners instead, because they are better educated and have more autonomy than physician assistants.

Physician assistants will have to turn to nurses or call physicians to act on medical directives when a patient's situation changes, said Doris Grinspun, executive director of the RNAO.

Grinspun said she is especially worried that some physician assistants are doing surgical procedures, which she says puts patients at risk.

I would say to my family, friends, colleagues, to the public: don't let them touch you," said Grinspun. "Make sure to ask who is taking care of you."

In Winnipeg, Ian Jones, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants, bristled at Grinspun's view. Jones works in neurosurgery.

"If I was drilling into somebody's skull by myself, I would be nervous too, but I don't," said Jones. "I work with a physician. I'll have the drill on my arm, he'll be standing right there .… When you need an extra set of hands, my hands are there. So I can make the neurosurgeon a lot more effective and efficient. And that's my job."

Alberta is also looking at allowing physician assistants to take some of the workload normally done by doctors.

Summit to Discuss Nursing Faculty Shortage in La.

Officials representing the nursing industry in Louisiana are meeting here today to discuss the shortage of qualified personnel in their field and what they call a dire lack of nursing school faculty. 

According to the Louisiana Hospital Association, the state's nursing shortage is at an all-time high with an estimated 4,663 unfilled nursing positions. On the nursing education side, 7.5 percent of faculty positions are filled with individuals who do not hold a master's degree or Ph.D. Because of these faculty shortages and the lack of funds to hire more qualified faculty, 1,690 qualified students were turned away from Louisiana nursing schools last year. 

The 2009 Nursing Education Capacity Summit is bringing together teams from across the United States today to discuss solutions to the nursing shortage. 

Louisiana's team includes Barbara Morvant, executive director of the Louisiana State Board of Nursing; Patricia Johnson, president of the Louisiana Organization of Nurse Executives; Norann J. Planchock, dean of nursing at Northwestern State University and president of the Louisiana Council of Administrators of Nursing Education; Nancy McPherson, Louisiana state director, American Association of Retired Persons; and KarenSue Zoeller, vice president of workforce development for the Louisiana Hospital Association. 

"We know having enough qualified nurses is critical to delivering high quality, cost effective healthcare, especially as Boomers age and experience more complex health conditions," said Susan Reinhard, senior vice president of the AARP Public Policy Institute and chief strategist for the Center to Champion Nursing in America. "Like their colleagues, Louisiana will benefit from the successes of other states that have already implemented programs to reverse this shortage." 

Credit: CityBusiness Staff 

(Copyright 2009 Dolan Media Newswires) 

(c) 2009 New Orleans CityBusiness. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

A service of YellowBrix, Inc. 

Arroyo announces ‘NARS’ for unemployed nurses

The government has launched an employment program to address the growing number of unemployed nurses in the Philippines especially amid the ongoing economic crisis.

President Arroyo announced during her speech in the Multi-Sectoral Jobs Summit at the Heroes Hall in Malacañang the launch of the Nurses Assigned in Rural Areas (NARS) program.

“We are launching NARS, or nurses assigned in rural areas… They shall be mobilized in their home towns. They shall also serve as roving nurses for rural schools,” said Mrs. Arroyo.

The program plans to give qualified nurses job and training experience by fielding them to rural areas short of medical personnel.

The program mainly targets fresh nursing graduates who have passed the board examination but lack work experience to find jobs abroad.

Those who will be hired under the program will each receive P8,000 from the national government aside from a P2,000 stipend given by local governments to rural nurses.

The hirees will also receive benefits such as coverage from PhilHealth as well as Government Service Insurance System aside from privileges to be given by private companies.

The government is looking to hire at least 5,000 to 6,000 nurses who will serve six months to a full year’s assignment under the NARS program.

Delayed payment
Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo also announced that those who lost their jobs due to the ongoing crisis would not need to settle their surcharges and penalties from Social Security (SSS) loans right away.

She said the SSS is already implementing a program temporarily freeing laid-off workers from settling their surcharges and penalties for one year.

“In response to this concern raised two weeks ago, SSS is already implementing such a program for one year,” said Mrs. Arroyo.

Also announced in the Labor Summit are the implementation of the “green collar job” program for the unemployed and summer job programs for the youth.

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