The Labor Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz assured overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia and those that intend to work there that the new Saudization program will have minimal effect so it should not be a cause of worry.

Baldoz said, “Lately, some alarm bells are being rung about the new Saudization program known as ‘Nitaqat’ (zones or ranges in Arabic), but I assure our workers and our people that this is no cause for undue worry.

According to Baldoz, she met the Minister of Labor of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, H.E. Adel Fakeih at the 100th ILO Conference in Geneva and that the Labor Minister never mentioned anything about displacement of hundreds or thousand of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. On the contrary, the Labor Minister said that Saudi Arabia is still open to hire millions of foreign workers.

Baldoz said, “Minister Fakeih, who requested for the bilateral meeting, was very emphatic and unequivocal in saying that the “Saudi labor market remains open for millions of foreign workers that also contribute side by side with national workers in achieving our various development goals, and fill the temporary needs of the national economy in its various stages of development.”

The DOLE secretary also said that reports from some licensed recruitment agencies confirmed that many big companies in Saudi that employs Filipinos are already 80 percent compliant with the Saudization program. Baldoz said that this report is an indication that the new law would have little effect on OFWs.

Baldoz explained that Nitaqat is one of the number of measures that the Saudi government is implementing “in order to improve the work environment, labor productivity, employment stability, justice and transparency” of Saudi Arabia.

Baldoz also discussed with the Labor Minister of Saudi Arabia the following: wage protection, social protection, equal pay, and e-services. Under the Nitaqat system, companies in Saudi Arabia will have four categories. Complying companies will either be classified into excellent and green while non-complying companies will either be yellow or red. Based on the category, company size and industry, Saudi Employers will be required to hire a minimum number of Saudi citizens. based on company size and the occupations of the company’s workers.

The categorization of Saudi companies is expected to be completed by 30 August 2011. Comapnies classified as red have until 11 December 2011 to improve their Saudization before the restrictions are implemented. Meanwhile, yellow-coded companies are given until 11 March 2012 to do so.

Yellow-coded companies will not be able to renew the work visas of foreign workers beyond six years, while red-coded companies will no longer be allowed to renew the work visas of their foreign workers.

On the other hand, excellent- and green-coded companies can recruit foreign workers already in Saudi from red- and yellow-coded companies without the consent of the workers’ sponsors and even if the workers have not worked for at least two years under their sponsors. These companies will also be able to change the profession of their foreign workers, including those restricted to Saudi nationals, except for human resource managers, liaison officers, cashiers, receptionists, and security guards.

Baldoz said the Philippines is ready to deal with the challenge and impact of the Nitaqat.

“Right now, we are looking at OFWs who are employed by small establishments (those in the red- and yellow-coded categories) as the ones most likely to be affected. And if this would be the case, we estimate that some 90,000 cleaners, guards and watchmen, construction workers, and other low-skilled types of laborers could be affected,” she explained.

“However, we will not have an accurate picture until after the completion of the categorization on 30 August,” she further said.

In the meantime, Baldoz had directed Middle East Supervising Labor Attache Arturo Sodusta, who is stationed in Qatar, to assist the POLO in Riyadh headed by Labor Attache Albert Valenciano in coordinating with Saudi’s competent authorities, recruitment agencies, and various companies to come out with a labor market assessment to determine what might be the full impact of the Saudization program.

Baldoz had also directed the various POLOs in the Kingdom to conduct forums on the Nitaqat to enable OFWs to gain better understanding of the nature and impact of the program.

“Our POLOs are also under orders to intensify their services for reintegration, including business counseling and financial literacy, with those workers likely to be affected as priority clients.

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