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By Angelica Taguinod
There are approximately 7,000 foreign workers in Palau including the Filipino group which takes up 60% of the country’s total workforce. Most of them work in the tourism industry which is the country’s main economic driver. In light of the pandemic, however, the impact on these migrant workers has been significantly higher.
Local workers take up the jobs in the government while expats, particularly most of the Filipinos, work in the private sector such as restaurants, hotels, diving, and tour companies – jobs that rely on tourists.
A three-year diver at the Palau Pacific Divers, Randy Villarin said he has been laid off from work since March together with his 5 other coworkers.
“Our boss told us to look for other jobs in the meantime while there is no tourist. He said he will take us back when things come back to normal - when tourists start to come in again.” Villarin revealed.
Villarin said he was just relying on the government’s assistance this time to survive. He further revealed, despite the current situation he was in, he still needs to send remittances back to the Philip-pines.
“I was fortunate to receive cash assistance from the government but what I’m getting is just enough to pay my rent and to buy some of my necessities. I needed to borrow money from a friend just to send money to the Philippines for my sick father. For now, I am looking for a temporary job to help myself as well,” Villarin added.
Around the world, migrant workers are the most overlooked population during a pandemic; however, it is not the case for Palau. The host country for these foreign workers has provided private sector financial assistance and even launched a re-employment program which includes them.
The Palau government recognises that these workers are part of the nation-building. Working in the tourism industry - the country’s bread and butter, these workers are necessary and important in the recovery phase, when tourism re-opens.
“We also recognised that our workforce is one of our most valuable assets. We have spent decades building this asset, and we cannot let Covid-19 destroy it in a matter of months…Preserving this workforce – both foreigners and local Palauans – will set us up for a strong recovery. No one in Palau will be left behind during Covid-19,” President Tommy Remengesau Jr. has said in his press conference.
There are about 2,900 workers who have applied for the relief assistance offered. Out of that number, 2,252 were qualified and disbursed relief checks with other applications still remain-ing for review. At least 1,752 are foreigner workers compared to 500 that are locals, according to the finance ministry.
Palau has openly embraced inclusivity, stressing that foreign workers are a critical component of its economy.
“Beyond the economics, our private-sector workforce is part of our community. They are our friends, our family, our neighbors, and our co-workers. Those who have come from other countries are our guests. When it comes to helping those in need, we do not distinguish between those born here and those who have come to seek new opportunities to better their lives,” Remengesau said when the government announced that it is also providing assistance to foreign workers.
The Filipino Community in Palau (TFCP) President Ariel Dela Cruz said many fellow Filipinos are coming to him for help and support.
“I got to talk to some Filipinos asking for help every day, my inbox was also flooded with the same kind of messages too. TFCP has gone around and looked for ways on how we can help our fellowmen,” Dela Cruz shared.
Dela Cruz said, fortunately, many have chipped in to offer their help including many Palauan businesses and individuals. Filipinos who are doing better than others in this difficult time also haven't forgotten to display their “bayanihan” or their communal unity spirit.
Minister of Finance Elbuchel Sadang, during the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme (PACMAS) and Palau Media Council Reporting on COVID-19 workshop earlier this month, shared the Pa-lau’s financial picture of the pandemic’s impact for the coming years.
He revealed that the country’s tourism-driven economy is expected to be one of the worst affected by the pandemic, with zero tourist arrivals for three months now.
Sadang also disclosed that the tourism economy is projected to continue with no tourists in sight within the next two years, until the fiscal year 2022.
Until such time, what fate lies for these Filipino workers “trapped” in Palau due to the global travel restrictions remains uncertain. However, returning to their country will not guarantee their employment too as the Philippines is currently a hot-bed for Covid-19 cases which limits people’s activity also result-ing in a significant number of job losses.
(Angelica Taguinod’s article was made possible through the support of a grant from PACMAS and Palau Media’s Reporting on COVID-19 workshop. PACMAS is funded by Australian Aid. Angelica is a new reporter for TIA BELAU NEWS for less than a year)
SOURCE TIA BELAU NEWSPAPER/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
Who & What is PINA?
International News Safety Institute (INSI)
Media Helping Media