The threat of millions of OFWs losing their jobs in the Middle East due to shrinking oil revenues paints an ominous economic picture, but before we all jump on board the dreadful scenario, it is good to listen to the flip side offered by Asia-Pacific cooperative leaders.
I was in Clark, Pampanga last February 9–11 attending the 3rd Regional Conference on the Status of Women in Cooperatives in Asia-Pacific sponsored by the International Cooperative Alliance–Asia Pacific and co-op federations in India, Nepal, Laos, Iran, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The PH co-op movement was the main event organizer to review the status of gender mainstreaming 10 years after the second regional conference held in Tagaytay City in 2006.
I’m happy to note that our country has earned high marks in gender mainstreaming and foreign delegates were looking at the PH experience. I intend to write about this in a future article.
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Reports say close to 3 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East, especially some 1.5 million in Saudi Arabia, are in danger of losing their jobs because of loss of oil revenues arising from glut in oil supply, among other factors, that plunged world oil prices from as high as $114 dollars per barrel in August 2014 to $38 per barrel on December 29, 2015.
The dire implications for the PH economy cannot be overstated as OFW remittances have kept the economy afloat for more than four decades now. As of 2014, remittances from OFW earnings amount to more than $26.9 billion.
However, Balasubramanian “ Balu” G. Iyer, regional director of International Cooperative Alliance for Asia-Pacific, downplayed the perceived imminent danger, saying the downturn of the oil industry in the Middle East is part of the “ups and downs” of the global economy which has affected many other countries not only the Philippines.
Interviewed in the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific conference on women co-op leaders, Iyer said PH cooperatives should look at returning OFWs as “valuable resource” in terms of assets and skills because of the many work exposures they have had in different countries around the world.
He cited his many travels in many capitals of the world wherein he saw migrant workers in supermarkets and malls. Returning OFWs can leverage their skills in technology and customer service when they go into cooperative enterprises.
PH cooperatives can draw an “organized plan” to attract Filipino migrant workers to the self-help fold, Balu Iyer stressed.
Dr. Romulo Sisno, chairman of the cooperatives federation VICTO National, echoed Iyer’s views, saying migrant workers are “assets” that the sector can very well tap. Dr. Sisno, who is president of the state-run Northern Negros College of Science and Technology in Sagay City, said he will put the issue in the agenda of the federation’s next meeting with the intention of drawing out specific directions and programs that will benefit returning migrant workers.
Two cooperative women leaders also backed efforts to attract migrant workers to the sector.
Ellen Limocon, general manager of the billionaire agriculture cooperative Lamac Multi-Purpose Cooperative in Lamac, Pinamungahan, Cebu, said cooperatives “should embrace” returning migrant workers.
Norma Pereyras, chairperson of the highly diversified Tagum Cooperative, said current developments can be a turning point for migrant workers. She encouraged them to explore business opportunities in the sector, adding that the cooperative economic model has proven to be the most resilient business model in times of financial crisis.
I wish to thank Natcco and Ellen Limocon for the privilege of taking part in the regional conference for women co-op leaders. I was actually tasked to document the visit in Manila and Cebu of another ICA executive and two officers of the Japan Ministry of Agriculture.
I will tackle this topic in a future article.