Filipino workers quit island

  • An uncertain future awaits Filipino workers who are to return to their homeland where Covid-19 has had a damaging effect (Photograph courtesy of Arab News/AFP)

    An uncertain future awaits Filipino workers who are to return to their homeland where Covid-19 has had a damaging effect (Photograph courtesy of Arab News/AFP)

Jobless expatriate workers from the Philippines — most from Bermuda’s hard-hit hospitality sector — face an uncertain future at home as they prepared to quit the island today.

Others from the South-East Asian country of 100 million people remained in Bermuda in the hope of renewed work permits, revived jobs and a break in the pandemic that has infected 120,000 in the Philippines and devastated its economy.

But after months without work, a major question was who was responsible for the cost of repatriation flights.

The Association of Filipinos in Bermuda said some unscrupulous employers had found ways to avoid the cost of sending employees back home.

Expatriates from the Philippines said Bermuda was welcoming and the wages on the island were a lifeline for families back home.

One hotel worker, out of work since March, said a return to his homeland was “like going into the middle of a war without bullets”.

The man, who asked not to be named, added: “The situation is much worse there than here. We are not blaming the company.

“But what will happen to us in the Philippines, we don’t know yet. Most of the businesses are shut down.”

The hotel worker said the departure “may hurt, but it will teach us a lesson”.

He added: “I just let tomorrow take care of tomorrow.

“Just do today better than what you did yesterday because our situation here is not like some in the Philippines.”

The Philippines is reported to be in recession after its economic output dropped 16.5 per cent in the second quarter.

The hotel worker said he was grateful for emergency unemployment benefits, which ended this week for thousands of expatriates, as well as Bermudians who signed on early.

But the association said many had still suffered hardship, with some now “penniless” after they had exhausted their savings because of the island’s high cost of living.

The organisation added: “They have been relying on either the unemployment benefits programme for their living expenses, and those who did not qualify have relied on the charity of their friends and food vouchers provided by different charities.”

But the hotel worker, who paid for his ticket home, said he was optimistic that “business will bounce back in Bermuda”.

He added that his employer had “assured us when it picks back up, they will hire us”.

The man said he had missed a planned holiday home in May, his first trip back in two years, because of the lockdown and he looked forward to seeing his wife, mother and sister.

Filipinos from all over the world are returning home to be quarantined in shuttered hotels as international flights restart.

The hotel worker said: “We have to face reality. Just find your way home and help family.

“Even if we can’t understand what’s happening, we have to look positively. It’s only dead people who have no hope. As long as there’s life, there’s hope.”

The association said Philippines law required contracts for nationals who worked overseas to have a provision to make the employer responsible for repatriation.

Bermuda law rules that the employer of an expatriate whose work permit expired or was revoked has to cover “any costs associated with repatriation of the former employee and his qualifying sponsored dependants”.

But the obligation is lifted if the two sides had a written agreement that made the employee responsible for their ticket home.

Most of the Filipinos scheduled to leave today are from the hotel and restaurant sectors, and the association reported that “quite a number” had signed agreements with their employers before they arrived that “the company would be deducting weekly funds from their salaries to cover the cost of their repatriation”.

The association added: “Naturally, these workers who were ignorant of the Bermuda law and were already committed to working in Bermuda, have agreed and have signed this separate agreement.

“We view this as a way of circumventing the law and it runs counter to the intent of the law.”

The group said the agreements had hit other blue-collar workers hard.

The association added: “We have heard of a few cleaners whose work permits will not be renewed and are set to go home as well.”

No figure was available on how many will set off today on the nearly 10,000-mile journey home, but the association said the numbers were low.

The group has been in talks with the labour office at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, on the best way to get redundant workers home.

A commercial flight was agreed because of uncertainty about the numbers of people involved and the cost of a chartered flight.

One woman, who has worked in Bermuda for 14 years and will remain as a child minder, predicted “hundreds” more could leave.

She said anxious workers were in “wait-and-see status”.

The woman added: “They know the uncertainty. If you go home, there’s no jobs. They’re still holding on to that little hope that they can go back to work.”

She said that, although limited commercial flights had restarted last month, the hotel sector was still in the doldrums and that there would be a major exodus if bigger hotels closed.

The woman claimed that some Bermudians resented Filipino workers. She added: “They accuse us of accepting cheap labour for small pay. That’s not our fault. And the cost of living is so high, you have very little take-home pay.”

But she said the sacrifice was still worth it because of the value of the Bermudian dollar.

She added: “Coming over here when you’re younger, you start to dream, for your own home and car. It’s a better opportunity.”

The woman added that she had not suffered discrimination on the island.

She said: “I love this place. But home is still home.”

Left with few options

The Association of Filipinos in Bermuda provided The Royal Gazette with a breakdown of the expatriate workers now leaving the island

• Some workers will go home because their company is closing its business. The matter of their repatriation is still under discussion.

• The majority of the workers have been asked by their employers to go back home on a long holiday and that their employees will need to pay for their own plane tickets. The employees have agreed to this arrangement because they have been promised by their company that they would be rehired when the company goes back to normal operations. When the employees have asked for their mandated two-week paid holiday leave that they are entitled to, the employers have told them that the equivalent of their holiday leave pay have been used up — without discussing the matter with the employees — to pay for their health insurance during the shelter-in-place order. It is noteworthy that these workers have work permits that would be expiring soon and it would be assumed that their work permits will no longer be renewed. We have received no report that they have been paid any severance pay.

• There are work-permit holders whose permits have been terminated before the lockdown and were also not given unemployment benefits because they did not qualify for financial assistance. Therefore, they have been relying on the charity of their friends and from food vouchers from charitable organisations. By law, their last employers are the ones responsible for their repatriation. Some of these workers had been asked by their former employers to present six months of bank statements to prove that they could not afford to pay their flights before they were given their tickets.

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on a story that we deem might inflame sensitivities. As we are legally liable for any libellous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

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