Despite the volatile situation in Iraq, efforts of the Philippine government to repatriate overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) remains unsuccessful, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) admitted over the weekend.
OWWA Administrator Marianito Roque said labor officials are having difficulty convincing Filipino workers from the war-torn country to return home
even as the government already made an offer to shoulder the expenses for their air fare.
"We don't have any reports or request yet for voluntary repatriation from Iraq," Roque said during a telephone interview.
Roque noted even the OFWs who earlier expressed their desire to return to the country for a short Christmas vacation have abandoned that their plans after Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas announced those who will return from Iraq will not be allowed to leave the country again despite having valid contracts and work permits.
According to the OWWA chief, OFWs prefer to stay in Iraq rather than return home due to the scarcity of job opportunities here.
"We cannot force them to go home but our Labor officials are doing all they can to convince the workers to avail themselves of the voluntary repatriation," he said.
At the moment, OFWs working as truck drivers in Iraq receive salaries ranging from US$3,000 to as high as US$5,000 or about P272,000 monthly.
Roque also confirmed that despite the ban on the deployment of Filipino workers, many are still able to sneak into the war-torn country, but admitted he is not be sure of the exact number of undocumented OFWs in Iraq.
Special Envoy to Iraq Gen. Roy Cimatu earlier confirmed OFWs continue to stream into Iraq by entering through the country's borders such as Kuwait, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Most of them work as truck drivers because of the high compensation the job offers.
A recruitment industry source said the government is losing the battle in the enforcement of the deployment ban because since last year, foreign employers have been offering huge salaries to OFWs who have finished their contracts with other Middle Eastern countries and the lure of high pay attracts many Filipinos who are looking for jobs.
"The continued intransigence of the Philippine government in not lifting the ban is depriving thousands of workers who want to earn good money in Iraq as documented workers," the recruitment official said.
Sto. Tomas ruled out the possibility of lifting the ban even as many recruitment agencies and foreign employers have already appealed to the department for the decision to be reconsidered.
"That really depends on what will happen to Iraq (but) as long as we feel that our workers are not safe there they are not going to go to Iraq," Sto. Tomas said.
Just last month, two OFWs died when their convoy tripped on a land mine in eastern Iraq. There are an estimated 7,000 OFWs currently working in Iraq, majority of whom are working inside United States military camps. Marie A. Surbano