POSTSCRIPT / December 2, 2012 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Quality OFWs in UAE boost PH image, income

ABU DHABI – It is not talked about openly that only one out of every five persons (or 20 percent) in the United Arab Emirates’ population of some 8.5 million is a native Emirati.

Foreigner workers include Caucasian expatriates, Indians, Pakistanis and, yes, Filipinos whose Tagalog chatter is heard at the airport, restaurants, offices… anywhere good service is expected.

This widespread use of imported brains and brawns may look odd – some even say it could have security implications — but since it helps bring prosperity to the UAE, profits to investors and earnings to workers, so be it.

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IMPORTING WORKERS: Imported labor continues to play a key role in the development of host countries juggling issues on population growth, economic prosperity and the person’s quality of life.

Singapore, a familiar example close to home, has fallen into the same situation of having to import professionals and skilled hands.

Like other countries with an ageing population, Singapore has to import labor to meet the requirements of sustained development — instead of waiting for its natives to produce, educate and train their own workers.

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41 YEARS OLD: The UAE celebrates its National Day today, Dec. 2, recalling the date 41 years ago when seven emirates near the entrance of the Persian Gulf dropped British tutelage to chart their own destiny.

Many visitors, including media, have congregated here to take a closer look at a Middle East country that has broken free from traditionalism to embrace progress and modernity.

It makes us proud when UAE officials discuss the need for competent personnel to maximize national productivity and the contributions of Filipinos (among other foreign workers) are mentioned.

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PINOY WORKERS: Of the estimated 10 million Filipinos (or 10 percent of the national population) working overseas, more than 500,000 are in the UAE.

Records shared by Philippine Ambassador Grace R. Princesa show that Filipino professionals and skilled workers such as doctors, engineers, nurses and architects comprise the biggest number at 60 percent of OFWs here.

This goes against the widespread misimpression that OFWs in the Middle East are faceless unskilled laborers herded like sheep in inhospitable job sites.

Sample salaries: Filipino engineers receive as high as 55,000 dirhams (P616,000) a month, while some doctors start at 15,000 dirhans and nurses about 10,000 dirhams a month. (A dirham fetches P11.20.)

Remittances of OFWs from the UAE amounted to $877, 981,000 in 2011, up from $775,237,000 in the previous year.

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SAD STORIES: After the professional majority are the fewer semi-skilled Filipino workers accounting for only 25 percent of OFWs here. Unskilled workers are a much smaller group at 15 percent.

Records show that among the common problems, especially of domestic help, are: absconding, nonpayment of wages, immorality, inability to save money and indebtedness.

With the negative bent of media, the sob stories of lives gone wrong and families wrecked are given prominence instead of the many stories of OFWs having made good and brought pride to their families.

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‘PINOY WISE’: With the help of volunteers who are themselves working, the Philippine embassy here has launched an intervention program called “Pinoy Wise” (Worldwide Initiative for Investment, Savings and Entrepreneurship).

Princesa said more than 700 Filipinos have been given financial literacy training while more trainors are being prepared.

Training is held at the Bayanihan center at the embassy. Many homecoming OFWs have become productive with their newfound business skills. Suddenly they realize that they can earn more doing business without having to part with their families.

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LEAPFROGGING: At 41, the UAE is quite young. But it has made up for lost time by leapfrogging into the 21st Century by using its huge oil resources to bring itself in step with the modern world.

The emirate’s ruler and Vice President of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoumunabashedly tells the world that it plans to be among the best places to be born in by 2021.

Sheikh Mohammed tweeted on Monday: “According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the UAE is 1st in the Arab World & 18th globally in: ‘The-where-to-be-born 2013 index’.”

The Economist Intelligence Unit index considers GDP/capita, GDP growth, inflation, cost of living, human rights, life expectancy, literacy, percentage of population in higher education, yawn index and bonus points.

Switzerland topped the global where-to-be-born index, followed by Norway and Sweden in second and third, respectively. Kuwait has been rated second in the Arab World and 22nd globally.

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OIL TIES: Since establishing diplomatic relations in 1980, the Philippines and the UAE have signed 11 bilateral agreements. The UAE supported the Aquino administration’s peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The counterpart in Manila of Ambassador Princesa is UAE Ambassador Moosa Abdulwahid Alkhajah. The Philippines also has a consulate general in Dubai, the emirate adjacent to Abu Dhabi.

In 2011, the UAE was the 14th top trading partner of the Philippines. This year, bilateral trade amounted to $1.95 billion. With the Philippines buying huge supplies of oil from the UAE, there has been an imbalance of $1.5 billion in favor of the UAE.

Shell Pilipinas imports crude oil from UAE through SIETCO (Shell International Eastern Trading Co.,) while Liquigaz buys the liquefied petroleum gas. Shell’s purchases of crude oil went up dramatically in 2007 as a result of Shell’s shifting its crude oil source from Iran to Abu Dhabi.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 2, 2012)

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