In addition to the skill and expertise of Filipinos bring to benefit their host countries, they also bear a considerable degree of risk and hazards at work.
For example, seafarers deal with the risk of piracy in the seas of high-risk waters, domestic workers deal with employer abuse or inadequate accommodation, and innocent applicants sometimes fall prey to human smugglers or illegal recruiters.
In this current coronavirus crisis, Filipinos all over the world have become exposed to the risk of getting infected because of the nature of their jobs, especially those who cannot work remotely. Filipinos are known to take up jobs where citizens are unable or unwilling to take. In this era of the pandemic, OFWs once again have validated that label as modern-day heroes by merely doing their jobs.
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OFWs continue to work as lockdown/quarantine imposed back home.
Although many OFWs have lost their jobs or whose operations were suspended, millions of them continue to work and provide a lifeline for their families. Their families in the Philippines have also been affected by measures imposed by the government to spread the disease, disrupting their means of livelihood, and now rely only on overseas remittance. These Filipino workers abroad also felt the same anxiety and concern towards their families as they do towards them. The sacrifice they do now extends beyond sending money back home. It also includes enduring the inconveniences of social distancing and occasional limitation of supplies, plus the risk of infection if they don’t wear enough protective devices.
OFWs have become infected and died of coronavirus.
Filipino healthcare workers and other frontline staff have become the subject to a worldwide chorus of praise and gratitude from citizens around the world for their role of caring for the sick, to the point that they get too ill. CNN Philippines reported that there were 203 cases of COVID-19 among Filipinos working abroad. Although more than half have since recovered, sadly, three of them already died. One of whom is Filipino nurse John Alagos, 23, who died after a grueling 12-hour shift, and reportedly did not have personal protective equipment.
Another case involved a 42-year-old Filipino cruise ship staff who died while receiving medical care in Australia, making him the youngest to die of the disease in that country.
“It’s always heartbreaking, he was a Filipino member who has been with the company since 2006,” said captain Morten Hansen of cruise ship Artania as he expressed his sadness over the fate of his crew member.
A domestic worker in Hong Kong in February became infected with COVID-19 because she was in contact with her employer, who was earlier confirmed to have the disease. Her first test revealed negative results, but the subsequent analysis confirmed she had been infected. The woman started to have a cough and fever on February 2 but got better after self-medicating and didn’t go to the doctor, said Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Center for Health Protection.
OFWs have become subject to racism and discrimination.
There are cases when health professionals have been on the receiving end of abuse and discrimination from the public who fear they could spread the disease. This has prompted orders for them not to wear scrubs in public to avoid possible reprisals and abuse by individual members of the community. It’s sad to realize that these are the same people who look after those who are sick and disregard the risk of getting infected because they have a job to do.
This adds another dimension to discrimination people have been receiving. Attacks and harassment based on ethnicity has been the usual form of discrimination. For this to happen in a foreign land is a painful experience for Filipinos who sacrificed caring for their fellowmen and travel thousands of miles to look after others.
OFWs have become instrumental in maintaining order in this time of health crisis.
While the world has been showing generous levels of gratitude to healthcare workers, many of whom are OFWs, there are also other Filipino workers whose role is critical in maintaining normalcy during this pandemic.
Filipino seafarers operating the ships that provide crucial supplies have continued their service, even though many of their contemporaries have been unable to return to work or found themselves stranded as the global supply chain has been severely disrupted.
Filipino domestic workers continue to look after their employers who have retreated to their homes to do their jobs and their children who must stay at home while school is suspended. Without these workers, the contribution of the middle class could be interrupted in a big way too.
OFWs in various industries have kept a steady supply of oil, kept cities and critical health facilities with constant power supply, and a functioning transport system is going even as operations of flights, and other means of transportation have been muted.
OFWs have always been handling being abroad and away from family with apprehension, worry, and genuine concern for the family. The added layer of risk as they face is another obstacle they need to overcome. Some of them have already been infected with COVID-19, and unfortunately, there were already documented deaths.