PhilEmb on the Saudi Arabia’s Nitaqat System

MESSAGE OF HIS EXCELLENCY AMBASSADOR EZZEDIN H. TAGO

Blas Ople Foreign Policy Center, 22 June 2011

On the Saudi Arabia’s Nitaqat System

I thank the Blas Ople Center for this opportunity to give a statement on the recent Nitaqat program announced early this month by the Saudi Ministry of Labor and its Minister Engr. Adel Faqih described as an incentive program for nationalization of the workforce.

The announcement of Nitaqat has created some controversy for foreign expatriates in the Kingdom, as well as for those who intend to seek employment in Saudi Arabia.

I think we should look at some of the statements of the Saudi Labor Ministry.

They have stated that the system intends to create more jobs for Saudis, and allow foreign workers greater mobility.

In a statement, the Ministry that “the Nitaqat is not designed nor intended to threaten the stability of guest workers in the Kingdom,” adding that the robust demand for foreign labor is not going away in the foreseeable future.

 The statement added that “the Ministry of Labor recognizes the role played — and continues to be played — by guest workers in the development of the country and appreciates their efforts in all fields and specialties”.

Private sector companies have been given until 11 September to comply with minimum requirements for Saudization and to correct their status, before the Nitaqat system would be implemented.

Indeed, there is greater mobility for foreign workers under Nitaqat. Under the new policy, foreign workers employed by companies that are not in compliance with the country’s Saudization quotas (categorized as “red” and “yellow” companies under Nitaqat) are free to work for companies in compliance (known as “green” companies) without acquiring permission from their employers at non-complying companies.

From the public statement on Nitaqat, it is clear that the system is complex and needs further study and scrutiny.

Here at the Embassy, we have not yet received official information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Ministry of Labor on the Nitaqat system. I have tasked the Labor Attache Albert Valenciano to meet with officials of the Ministry of Labor to seek more details on the effects of Nitaqat on the employment of Filipinos here in the Kingdom, especially those who have been in the kingdom for many years. We will advise Filipinos here on any information we receive from the host government.

However, Nitaqat comes as a reminder to all of us that overseas work in any single country is not permanent. It also reminds us that should take advantage of our deployment overseas to save our income and invest for the future. It also encourages foreign workers to enhance skills and competitiveness compared to others.

In the near future, the Embassy in coordination with the Philippine Overseas Labor Office and other attached services and with the cooperation of the Filipino community shall try to offer more frequent seminars on financial literacy and entrepreneurship. We must be able to plan for the future.

Mabuhay po kayo! Salamat sa organizers ng forum at sa Blas Ople Center.

OFW Congress-Riyadh hosted a Dinner in honor of OFW Dr. Lito Astillero

Chris Lavinia, POLO Welfare Officer Nestor Burayag, Resty Sibug, Marilyn Lavinia, H.E. Ambassador Ezz Tago (barong), Gob Dimalotang, Oscar Domingo, Dr. Lito Astillero (yellow arrow) & Robert Ramos

RIYADH, Saudi ArabiaOFW Congress, an advocacy group comprised of various Filipino community organizations in Riyadh hosted a farewell dinner get-together in honor of Dr. Lito Astillero dubbed as the “Father of the OFWs in the Kingdom”. The farewell dinner get-together was held at Al-Nafoura Restaurant in Riyadh, Wednesday  night.

Astillero, who is from Western Mindanao, has been an OFW for the past 23 years in the Kingdom as Laboratory Director at Al-Mishari Hospital in Riyadh. He also worked in Iran and Libya, summing up as an OFW for the last 35 years.

Among those who came to bid farewell to Dr. Lito Astillero is no less than the Philippine Ambassador-designate to the Kingdom, H.E. Ambassador Ezzedin Tago.

The get-together was more than a celebration for an OFW who is leaving Saudi Arabia for good, the country he considered a second home for the past 23 years. But it was also a historic moment when one by one, the community leaders stood and narrated all the good things and deeds he has been doing to the OFW Community.

Dr. Lito Astillero had been an active community leader, adviser, philanthropist and fund campaigner whenever calamities struck the Philippines. Among the organizations he headed is the Organization of the Knights of Rizal (OKOR) of which he was Founding Regional Commander (Formerly called Area Commander), Middle East and Africa Area Council, from 2002 to 2004; Founding Chairman, Gabay ng Manggagawang Pilipino Party, 1999 to 2002; Chairman, BIMPCO Multipurpose Cooperative in 1997 to 2000; Chairman, PUNO “Pagkakaisa at Unawaan ng mga Organisasyon” from 1996 to 1997; President, BAR “Basketball Association of Riyadh” in 1993 to 1996; President, BISAYA “Bisayang Igsoon sa Saudi Arabia, 1996 to 1997; Board of Director, Philippine Embassy International School of Riyadh, 1996 to 1997; President, Filipino Community of Libya, Misurata, Libya, 1979 to 1981; President, Filipino Community of Iran, Bandar Abbas Iran in 1976 to 1978.

He earned his degree at Southwestern University and placed 9th in the 1968 Medical Board Exam. Presently, his family is residing in Labangon, Cebu City. The doctor and his wife Elena have five children, which include two doctors, a nurse, an engineer and a lawyer.

During his stint as an Overseas Filipino Worker, he received various awards, including the Special Presidential Award 1996 – Banaag at Sikat, the San Lorenzo Ruiz Award for Outstanding OFW (1994) both awarded by former President Fidel Ramos; the Bagong Bayani Award (1992) by former President Cory Aquino; and the Most Outstanding Filipino in Saudi Arabia (1990) by the Philippine Embassy.

Ambassador designate Ezzedin Tago in his short remraks was saddened to hear that Dr. Astillero will leave the Kingdom for good, “Dr. Astillero is a well respected Filipino community leader, we will surely missed him but we must continue his unfinished task and he should be our inspiration in doing what is good for the OFWs,” Tago said.

Tago also expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the OFW Congress for the support he get since from the beginning he was assigned in Riyadh as Philippine Embassy Charge D’ Affaires. He emphasized that it is still improper addressing him as “Ambassador”, for the fact that he still need an official acceptance from the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud on his appointment as Philippine Ambassador to the Kingdom. “Without it (official acceptance) I am still the Charge D’ Affaires and Consul General of our Embassy” he said.

After his remarks, Tago excused himself to prepare for his flight to Kazakhstan as part of the Philippine delegation in the 38th Session of the Organization of Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers. Philippines is seeking OIC permanent observer status since 2008. OIC is the second largest intergovernmental organization after the United Nations.

Astillero was also thankful to the OFW Congress in hosting the said Farewell Dinner Get-Together in his honor. “I am truly honored and I really appreciate your gesture in hosting this dinner” he said. “I just hope that you will continue helping our fellow compatriots in distress” Astillero is referring to those unfortunate OFWs in distressed seeking help from the community. He also asked the OFW Congress-Riyadh  to  rally behind the newly installed Philippine Chief of Mission in the Kingdom.

Gob Dimalotang, founding President of PHILMOWA (Philippine Moslem Overseas Workers Movement) said, “there will never be another Dr. Astillero in our heart” while Allan Macabangkit of Shakba says “It is not enough for us to say Goodbye and Thank you to our beloved Big Brother”.

Dante Pangcoga of Integrated Mindanao Economic Forum said, “If only I can stop him not to go, I will stop him, Dr. Astillero is a person hard to be replaced.”

OFWC Executive Vice President Faisal Sarque described Dr. Astillero as an icon. “Even we have diverse opinion on certain issue but we are still friends in and outside the community” Sarque said.

Sarque handed to Dr. Lito Astillero a “Certificate of Recognition” from OFW Congress-Riyadh for his outstanding commitment and dedication advocating the interest, well-being and welfare of the Overseas Filipino Workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In 2008, Astillero was endorsed by OFW Congress-Riyadh along  with OFW advocates and organizations worldwide to the top OWWA post, but the former Arroyo administration choose Carmelita Dimzon, a long-time official of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) as chief of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Just recently, OFW Congress-Riyadh handed to Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay during his visit in Riyadh a recommendation asking the Government to appoint a land based OFWs from Saudi Arabia to sit as OWWA and POEA Board respectively. The OFW Congress did not in particular endorse any personalities for the mentioned seats but two of their Executive Council members were endorsed by other group namely Engr. Robert Ramos and so with Dr. Lito Astillero.

When asked about the rumor that a certain group at home is seeking for his seat in the POEA and OWWA Board, Astillero neither confirm nor deny it, but he assured that he would continue advocating issues and concern affecting the lives of the OFWs at site and their families at home.

OFWC President Alex Bello who is currently in Philippines sent a message to Dr. Astillero posted at Facebook “now you can spearhead to empower the OFWs & Ex-OFWs & Families here in our homeland”. Bello is referring that Dr. Astillero can now be an active campaigner of OFW empowerment at home. Just recently Alex Bello and OFW families in Region 8 formed the “Pagkakaisa OFW Family, Region 8.” The concept is to organize Pagkakaisa OFW Family in all regions nationwide which aimed to bring and empower OFW families into the mainstream of the Philippine society. -End-

Handa ka na ba?

In the depths of isolation and loneliness an Overseas Filipino Worker in Saudi Arabia struggles to find a compromise between holding on to his dreams and keeping his family together.

Is the promise of a better life worth the price he’s paying?

Malumbay ang puso

Ikaw ay nasa malayo

Ngunit  baonin mo mahal…

Pangako, kailan man

Hindi mawawalay

Pusong naghihintay…

Happy Father’s Day! To: All OFW  Father in the Middle East

The Nitaqat

The Nitaqat  (New employment rules to shake up Saudi private sector)

Saudi Arabia is unveiling a major overhaul of the long-ineffective plan to nationalize a private sector workforce dominated by foreigners to the tune of nine out of every 10 employees. This month, the government will inform companies which of four categories — ‘excellent’ or Blue, ‘green’, ‘yellow’ and ‘red’ — they fall under based on whether they employ enough Saudi nationals to comply with established quotas. Following a grace period, the new Saudization scheme, known as Nitaqat (or ranges in Arabic), would level severe penalties on violators and offer incentives and rewards to those firms meeting quotas.

The Color Categories

The new system is more dynamic, applying 205 categories of quotas that vary based on the line of work and size of the company.

Excellent or Blue:

In many cases, companies achieving more than 30 percent nationalization would be classified as “excellent”.

Green:

While ‘green’ companies will be entitled to, for the first time, recruit foreign workers freely from the other two categories & transfer their sponsorship visas without their current employer’s consent.

Small company in the wholesale and retail sector wanting to attain ‘green’ status should have 10 percent – 26 percent  nationalization. Medium-sized firm needs 17 percent – 33 percent. While large firm should have 24 percent – 34 percent. Non compliance will have all work permit renewal services suspended according to Ministry of Labor.

However, those who comply will benefit from a streamlined visa approval process that would grant their employees visas within 10 days as the ministry moves toward decentralizing visa issuance. In addition, those falling in the “excellent” and “green” categories will be able to recruit workers from the other categories without having to obtain their employer’s consent.

Yellow: (Yellow)

Firms with a ‘yellow’ label will be able to renew work permits on the condition that employees have not spent more than six years in Saudi Arabia until February 23, 2012, but their rights to new visas and transfers ends by September 10. In other words, the Saudi government will impose a six-year cap on residency visas for expatriate workers, if their employers fail to meet quotas or if their employers fall in “yellow category”.

Red:

Companies falling in the ‘red’ category who resist or those who will not heed to “Saudization process” will be unable to get new licenses, renew their licenses, renew their employees’ visas or hire new foreign labor.

Companies falling in the ‘red’ and ‘yellow’ categories, and hence do not employ enough Saudi nationals, will be unable to renew visas of their expatriate staff or issue new visas unless they reach compliance in the number of Saudi employees they hire.

Nitaqat assigns different nationalization rates according to the size and activity of companies – so smaller companies have smaller overall quota requirements than larger ones do. Private sector companies, mainly smaller in size will struggle and possibly be forced to shut down as a result of the policy if it is widely enforced.

Nitaqat could lead to a downturn in remittances to countries that come to rely on them heavily for foreign currency. Non-Saudis population rose sharply, reaching 31 percent of the 27.6 million people living in the country by the end of 2010.

The new Nitaqat scheme could drastically alter this equation by forcing companies to hire nationals, invest more in training and increase wages if they want to stay in business.

By contrast, businesses that have complied with quotas will benefit from incentives and talented expatriates who have been working in the country for years are key beneficiaries of the new system, by encouraging companies to compete in order to retain top talent.

Excerpt taken from Arab News Article titled “New employment rules to shake up Saudi private sector” dated June 15, 2011 by John Sfakianakis, Chief Economist, Banque Saudi Fransi

Click this link for the  “Implementing Rules and Regulations

To: OFWs bound for TAIWAN

PHILIPPINE OVERSEAS EMPLOYMENT ADMINISTRATION (POEA)

Dear OFWempowerment blog reader,

Sa mga kahanay po natin na mangingibang bansa sa TAIWAN, ang liham po na mababasa ninyo sa ibaba ay sulat  tugon  ni Atty. Josefino N. Naval ng POEA  sa mga katanongan ng ating kahanay na OFW bound for Taiwan.  Sana po ang liham na ito ay makapagbigay kaalaman sa ating mga kapwa OFWs na nais mag-trabaho sa Taiwan. 

Ito po ang sulat ng ating OFWempowerment blog reader:

“good day sir, isa po akong aplikante para sa isang factory sa taiwan at kasalukuyang pinoproseso daw po ng agency  ang aking mga papeles.ang concern ko po ay kung bakit di po sila nagbibigay ng resibo sa mga binayaran namin.tinanong ko po ung kahera kung wala talagang resibo nung nagbayad ako ng downpayment,ang sagot po niya ay “wala”.nangyayari rin po to sa mga kasama kong aplikante.Dapat po naming bayaran ang aabot P130,000 bago makaalis ng Pinas, kung saan nakasaad dun na 52k+ ang para sa placement fee;69k+ ang para sa refferals fee; medical; atbp…Ang pagkakaalam ko po ay maliban po sa placement fee na katumbas ng 1buwan sahod/ d lalagpas sa 45k na bayad ay wala na dapat bayaran sa mga agency, bakit po sila naniningil ng “refferal fee”?.kung para man ito sa mga brokers ng Taiwan, legal po ba yun? ang paghingi nila ng fee maliban sa buwanang babayaran pagdating sa Taiwan?  Hindi ko pa po binabayaran ung halagang 130,000 kaya lang nag-aalala po ako kung tama lang po ba na ganun kalaki ung dapat kong bayaran? tama po bang di muna sila magbigay ng resibo hanggat di buo ung kabayaran? salamat po.”

Kami po ay taos-pusong nagpapasalamat kay Atty. Josefino N. Naval (Chief of Staff) ng POEA sa agarang pagtugon ng aming liham. Siyanawa kayo po at ang inyong buong pamilya ay pagpalain ng poong maykapal.

Gumagalang,

Manuel  Amora

*****

June 7, 2011   

Mr. Manuel A. Amora 

Sir:

Ito po ay hinggil sa mga katanungan ni “Lester of  Beguet”.

1)      Tama po ba na hindi muna sila magbigay ng resibo hanggat hindi buo ang kabayaran?

- Hindi po. Obligasyon po ng recruitment agency na kayo ay bigyan ng kaukulang resibo para sa inyo pong binabayaran at kinakailangang nakasulat sa resibo ang halaga ng inyong ibinayad at “purpose” ng pagbabayad. Marapat na kayo po ay humingi ng kaukulang resibo sa bawat halaga na inyong ibinabayad sa recruitment agency.

2)      Hindi ko po binabayaran ang halagang Php 130,000.00 kaya lang nag aalala po ako kung tama po ba na ganon kalaki ang dapat kong bayaran?

- Ang kabuuang halaga na dapat ninyong bayaran ay hindi lalagpas sa Php 46,000.00 o maximum na po ang Php 47,000.00, depende sa exchange rate ng inyong one-month salary. Ang halaga pong ito ay binubuo ng katumbas ng inyong isang (1) buwang sahod bilang placement fee, at ang mga pre-departure expenses (tulad ng medical examination fee, Philhealth, OWWA membership fee, POEA processing fee, etc.) para sa isang OFW magtatrabaho sa Taiwan. Hindi po tama ang Php 52,000.00 bilang placement fee na sinisingil sa inyo.

Ang “referral fee” po ay hindi kasama sa mga legal na bayarin ng Taiwan-bound OFW at ang broker’s fee po ay hindi minsanang binabayaran bagkus ay may schedule of payments na nakatakda sa pagbabayad nito.

Sa pamamagitan po ng aming tugon sa mga katanungan ni “Lester of Beguet” kami po ay umaasa na nakapagbigay linaw sa kanyang mga nais malaman.

Lubos na gumagalang,

 

ATTY.  JOSEFINO N. NAVAL  (Chief of Staff) 

Tidbits: R.A. 10022, FWRC or BK

June 7, 2011 – A  Migrant Workers Day Blog Post

What are the difference between  Section 19 of R.A. 8042 and Section  12 of R.A. 8042 as Amended  (R.A. 10022)?  and –  Who is responsible for the repatriation of OFW in Distressed?  

A:  ESTABLISHMENT OF A MIGRANT WORKERS AND OTHER OVERSEAS (OFRC or FWRC) FILIPINOS RESOURCE CENTER

R.A. 8042 Sec. 19 (Second Paragraph)

The establishment and operations of the Center shall be a joint undertaking of the various government agencies. The Center shall be open for twenty-four (24) hours daily, including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, and shall be staffed by Foreign Service personnel, service attaches or officers who represent other organizations from the host countries. In countries categorized as highly problematic by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment and where there is a concentration of Filipino migrant workers, the government must provide a lawyer and a social worker for the Center. The Labor Attache shall coordinate the operation of the Center and shall keep the Chief of Mission informed and updated on all matters affecting it.

REPUBLIC ACT No. 8042 as AMENDED (R.A. 10022), Sec. 12

Section 12. The second paragraph of Sec. 19 of Republic Act No. 8042, as amended, is hereby amended to read as follows:

 “The establishment and operations of the Center shall be a joint undertaking of the various government agencies. The Center shall be open for twenty-four (24) hours daily including Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, and shall be staffed by Foreign Service personnel, service attaches or officers who represent other Philippine government agencies abroad and, if available, individual volunteers and bona fide non-government organizations from the host countries. In countries categorized as highly problematic by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment and where there is a concentration of Filipino migrant workers, the government must provide a Sharia or human rights lawyer, a psychologist and a social worker for the Center. In addition to these personnel, the government must also hire within the receiving country, in such number as may be needed by the post, public relation officers or case officers who are conversant, orally and in writing, with the local language, laws, customs and practices.  The Labor Attache shall coordinate the operation of the Center and shall keep the Chief of Mission informed and updated on all matters affecting it.”

***

B:  FWRC or Bahay Kalinga in Riyadh re: ADMISSION POLICIES

1) The  shelter admits female Household Service Workers (HSWs) who appear in person at the Philippine Embassy/POLO-OWWA within a reasonable period of time after they run away from their employers.

2) Upon admission, the HSW is oriented on BK House Rules and is informed of amicable settlement and repatriation procedures through the services of the Philippine Embassy/POLO-OWWA and the Saudi Social Welfare Administration (SSWA).

3) The shelter  does not admit HSWs who have long stayed with other employers or with fellow Filipinos after running away from their sponsors (so-called TNTs), but shall help them get endorsed to SSWA for clearance and exit visa procedures.

4) In specific cases, TNTs may be admitted with the written endorsement of the Embassy. Such cases include trafficked victims.

5) Those admitted are not allowed to work for other employers.

6) Those who were previously admitted but subsequently ran away from the shelter are not re-admitted.

Part of the assistance provided the wards at the FWRC is their endorsement to the Social Welfare Administration (SSWA) of the Saudi government within a reasonable period of time after mediation efforts by POLO case officers fail.

Counselling –  POLO-OWWA Riyadh provides counselling to OFWs who get in touch in person or by phone with POLO-OWWA officers for various queries related to their employment and stay in Saudi Arabia.

Repatriation AssistanceRepatriation services include negotiations with the employer, police and/or immigration authorities; plane ticket sourcing; booking and re-booking facilitation and airport assistance in Riyadh and in Manila.

***

C:  Who is responsible for the repatriation of OFW in Distressed

Under normal circumstances, it is the joint responsibility of the employer, the Philippine recruitment agency and the Saudi manpower agency (if there is any) to repatriate the OFW pursuant to provisions of Republic Act No. 8042, as amended by Republic Act 10022. In case the employer and/or the agency is unable to repatriate the worker, the Philippine government through the OWWA in case of regular/documented worker or the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in case of irregular/undocumented worker- shall repatriate the distressed worker upon request of POLO or the Philippine Embassy.

The POLO does not maintain a stand-by fund for the repatriation of workers. Prior approval by either OWWA or DFA is required for this purpose on a case-to-case basis.

R.A. 8042, SEC. 15. REPATRIATION OF WORKERS; EMERGENCY REPATRIATION FUND. – The repatriation of the worker and the transport of his personal belongings shall be the primary responsibility of the agency which recruited or deployed the worker overseas. All costs attendant to repatriation shall be borne by or charged to the agency concerned and/or its principal. Likewise, the repatriation of remains and transport of the personal belongings of a deceased worker and all costs attendant thereto shall be borne by the principal and/or local agency. However, in cases where the termination of employment is due solely to the fault of the worker, the principal/employer or agency shall not in any manner be responsible for the repatriation of the former and/or his belongings.

DOLE to hold first congress on OFWs

OWWA/June 3, 2011 – The Dept. of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and its attached agencies will be celebrating its 1st NATIONAL CONGRESS OF OFWs AND FAMILIES on June 7, Tuesday at the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia, Pasay City. This momentous event falls on Migrant Workers Day, the special day made for the Filipino overseas workers.

Migrant Workers of various nationalities during May 2011 International Workers’ Day march through Hamra and Sanayeh in Beirut, Lebanon. (Click Photo)

The National Congress of OFWs and Families aims to convene OFWs and families, and other stakeholders to draw up recommendations for program development and policy direction in fostering OFW sector development, and to develop a mechanism in the implementation of the billion-peso reintegration program for enterprise development of OFWs.

The event’s highlight will be the launching of the 2 Billion Pesos Reintegration Program. This is a joint venture of the DOLE, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines. The program offers different enterprises, flexible and easy loan term payments for its OFW availees. This is in support of the president’s desire to give sustainable businesses to the OFWs and their families.

The event will also showcase exhibits of products and services of former OFWs and Overseas Filipino Circles (OFCs) who have previously availed of the reintegration programs and financial and technical assistances offered by the OWWA.

The event will also feature the presentation of the OFW Manifesto which underscores the needs and concerns of the OFWs and their families. The Manifesto was drafted from the accumulated reports of the Regional Congress of the OWWA Regional Welfare Offices.

The attendees of the event are the OFWs, their families, the OFCs, the social partners, the media and some distinguished guests.

OWWA organized this event in celebration of the national Migrant Workers Day.