Palau’s foreign workers hit hard by economic downturn

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KOROR (Pacnews) — There are approximately 7,000 foreign workers in Palau including  Filipinos who make up 60% of the country’s total workforce.

Most of them are employed by the tourism industry which is the country’s main economic driver.

Local workers take up the jobs in the government while expats, particularly Filipinos, work in the private sector: restaurants, hotels, dive and tour companies — jobs that rely on tourists.

A three-year diver at Palau Pacific Divers, Randy Villarin said he was laid off  in March together with his five 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 said.

 He has been relying on the Palau government’s assistance  to survive.

“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 usually the most overlooked population during a pandemic. However, this is not the case in Palau which has provided financial assistance and launched a re-employment program that includes them.

The Palau government recognizes that its foreign workers are part of its nation-building efforts. Employed by the tourism industry — the country’s bread and butter — these workers are necessary and important in the recovery phase when tourism re-opens.

“We recognize that our workforce is one of our most valuable assets,” President Tommy Remengesau Jr.  said in a press conference. “We have spent decades building this asset, and we cannot let Covid-19 destroy it in a matter of months…. Preserving this workforce — foreigners and local Palauans — will set us up for a strong recovery. No one in Palau will be left behind during Covid-19.”

There are about 2,900 workers who have applied for relief assistance. Of this number, 2,252 were qualified to receive relief checks. Other applications are still under review.

1,752 of those receiving relief assistance are foreign workers while 500 are locals, according to the finance ministry.

“Beyond  economics, our private-sector workforce is part of our community,” President Remengesau said. “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.”

The Filipino Community in Palau  or TFCP president Ariel Dela Cruz said many of his fellow Filipinos are seeking help and support.

 He said TFCP is “looking for ways to help our fellowmen.”

Dela Cruz said, fortunately, many Palauan businesses and individuals have offered their help. Filipinos who are doing better than others in this difficult time are also “chipping in,” he added.

Minister of Finance Elbuchel Sadang noted that Palau’s tourism-driven economy is expected to be one of the worst affected by the pandemic, with zero tourist arrivals for three months now.

He said there may be no tourists visiting Palau in the next two years.

The fate of Filipino workers who have to remain in Palau due to the global travel restrictions remains uncertain. Returning to their own country is also a challenge because the Philippine economy has been devastated by Covid-19 as well.

This news article was made possible by  a grant from the Pacific Media Assistance Scheme, which is funded by the Australian government, and the Palau Media Council Reporting on Covid-19 Workshop.


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