RP industries face collapse as exodus of ‘mission-critical’ workers continues unabated

Last year, the Fair Trade Alliance (FairTrade) brought to the public’s consciousness the economic dimension of the unregulated exodus of our health and mission-critical workers through a one-page ad entitled “Saan Pupulutin Ang Pilipinas Kung Wala Nang Industriya?” The Alliance raised the grave threats facing the country because of the unchecked outflow of mission-critical skills and talents such as the likely closure of more hospitals, the grounding of the domestic aviation industry and the collapse of critical industries, e.g., power, steel, petrochemical and telecoms industries. The ad generated a lot of discussions and debates on the FairTrade’s stand.

Some neo-liberal economists are saying that the exodus problematique can easily be solved through the free interplay of the supply and demand forces, specifically through the increased training and education of pilots, engineers and other mission-critical personnel and professionals. They argued that the remaining industries should simply invest more in the training of new pilots, engineers and other professionals to replace those who have left the country.

This answer is a non-solution.

First, it takes time to identify, develop and hone talents and skills. Second, it is expensive to invest in the development of these talents and skills. Finally, our own industry becomes less competitive and loses out in global competition while waiting for the new talents and skills to be developed.

As it is,we are honing skills and talents for other countries, which have managed to avoid invest time and money in producing their own mission-critical personnel and professionals. In the process, they are able to save their own critical industries and economy, while our own industries suffer and even collapse.

The depletion of mission-critical skills has never been as severe as it is today. In the health sector alone, over 100 hospitals have closed down and the ratio of nurses-to-patients in many hospitals is at an alarming and unsustainable 1:60. We agree with Former Health Secretary Jaime Galvez Tan, who has been studying the medical exodus over the past five years. He said, “We are facing a serious problem and we need to address it now before it is too late.”

In this context, we, at the Fair Trade Alliance, reiterate our demands:

Stricter regulation of the outflow of critical skills and talents in crucial and strategic industries. Sections 5 and 31 of the Migrant Workers Act of l995 empower the State to suspend or ban the deployment of migrant workers ‘in pursuit of national interest or when public welfare so requires. ‘To secure’ the services of ‘professionals and other highly-skilled Filipinos’ the government should:

  • Disseminate to recruitment agencies, overseas diplomatic posts, the BID, in consultation with affected industries, a list of endangered mission-critical personnel and professionals;
  • Suspend the processing of passport and travel documents of mission-critical personnel and professionals who have not rendered any national public service (see discussion below);
  • De-list and suspend the licenses of recruitment agencies which persist in poaching, recruiting and deploying mission-critical personnel and professionals despite the POEA advisory listing; and
  • Relatedly, the government should pass a National Service Act requiring the mission-critical personnel and professionals to render a minimum number of years of national service. The period should be on the basis of the investment on education and training made by the school system and industry as determined by an appropriate authority created for this purpose.

On the other hand, the government should immediately upgrade the salaries of mission-critical personnel in the public sector such as nurses in government hospitals, teachers in public schools and air controllers. At the same time, it should call for industry-government consultation on how industries can provide globally-competitive compensation and working conditions to keep the best and the brightest at home.

While we welcome DOLE’s move of issuing an order requiring pilots and other mission-critical personnel to file a six-month notice before they can leave the country, this is not enough. There are social, economic and national security implications which demand bolder policy responses. Our existing industries, few and shrinking as they are in number, are in further danger of collapse because of the diaspora of our mission-critical workers and personnel.

We, at FairTrade, respect the right of our workers, especially the more talented among them, in seeking greener pastures here or overseas. This includes the right to mobility and the right to choose a job or occupation of their liking. At the same time, however, it is also the sovereign right of every country to assert its national interest by protecting its own critical industries. We need to find the right balance – how to safeguard the interests of critical domestic industries and insure their survival, on one hand, and how to respect the rights and aspirations of our talented workers to go overseas and earn more, on the other.

The government, industry, labor and other concerned sectors should come together to develop an integrated human resource development program simultaneous to or accompanying the development of a reinvigorated and integrated agro-industrial development program for the country. The permanently ‘temporary’ policy of labor migration should be reviewed. Of course, the long-term and win-win solution to all of this is to have an economy that truly works and an economy with a strong agro-industrial base able to provide decent jobs for all.

Image from Page A14, April 2, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer


  1. just be careful with some recruitmet agencies because some of them are scammers too `

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  • Founded in 2001, the Fair Trade Alliance (FairTrade) of the Philippines is a broad multisectoral coalition of formal and informal labor, industry, agriculture, NGOs and youth pushing for trade and economic reforms.
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