SALAYSAY: Teachers say Asia grappling to balance migration, crisis-hit labor market (Last of two parts)

Korea

THE global economic crisis, for economist Park Young Bum of Hansung University, has further “polarized” the Korean labor market as some 6,707 foreign workers have been retrenched as of December 2008.

These retrenchments are due to the bankruptcy and shutting down of small- and medium-sized enterprises in Korea, Park said.

The Korean government has suspended the issuance of work visas (called the E-9 visa) to foreign workers until the year 2010, with the Korean government having an annual quota of 72,000 issuances of these work visas until February this year.

But don’t expect an increase of the E-9 visa quota for the country soon, said Park, due to the “shrinking labor market”.

Korea’s government will also try to subsidize small and medium enterprises who will replace foreign workers with Korean workers, to the tune of 1.2 million won per newly-hired local worker.

Since November 2008, Korea has also sent back home some 8,000 undocumented migrant workers. Again, no breakdowns by nationality were given.

As of October last year, the estimated undocumented migrant workers in Korea numbered to 219,596, down from 224,965 in January 2008.

Yet Park thinks that the country will likely depend on unskilled foreign labor as a massive repatriation of foreign workers “is not possible”.

Familiar

THESE situations affecting foreign workers in East and Southeast Asia are familiar territory for these countries, especially so that the region had experienced the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

Thus, Scalabrini Migration Center director Dr. Maruja Asis thinks that repatriation, more border controls, punitive penalties for undocumented migrant workers, and no new or higher levels of employment in host countries will be the same scenes this year as in 1997.

For countries like the Philippines that send out labor to overseas markets, expect increasing documented and undocumented overseas migration, rising numbers of returning migrant workers, and the increasing role of remittances this year as in 1997, Asis said.

Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Korea are among the target destination countries for Filipino migrant workers.

Figures of deployed migrant workers in 2007 from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) show that the four countries received 76,565 new-hired and re-hired Filipino workers.

As of January, 74 OFWs who worked in Korea’s electronics sector have been retrenched. There are no reported displaced OFWs from Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia thus far.

In her paper titled “The Impact of the Global Financial Crisis on Employment,” Labor Undersecretary Rosalinda D. Baldoz said a total 6,406 workers were displaced as of March 12, 2009. Some 4,197 came from Taiwan while 1,357 were at the United Arab Emirates.

The 74 Korea-based OFWs are part of the 5,036 displaced OFWs reported by the POEA, said POEA director Liberty Casco during a multi-sector workshop on the global financial crisis that the Department of Labor and Employment convened last January 30.

De La Salle University professor and migration expert Stella Go told participants to a workshop organized by the Scalabrini Migration Center and the International Labor Organization that despite the crisis, international labor migration “hasn’t adversely affected” the Philippines, owing to increasing deployment to old and new labor markets, and because of rising remittances.

What worries Go, however, is that the crisis might increase the risks facing OFWs who work in “vulnerable occupations” such as domestic help and construction.

“They might be exposed to wage cuts and less-ideal work conditions,” she added. (OFW Journalism Consortium)