Pinoy Kasi



There was a time when “Saudi” became a verb in the Philippines, as in “mag Saudi,” meaning to work overseas. During the 1970s, when government made it an official policy to export Filipino workers, the main target was Saudi Arabia. Over the years, the destinations have become much more diverse, but Saudi still remains an important market, with some 1.3 million Filipinos working there.

Now comes news that Saudi Arabian officials are going to seriously implement “Saudization,” which means getting more local people to take on the jobs currently held by foreigners. The Saudi government announced that effective August 1, it would impose a moratorium on the hiring of new Indonesian and Filipino maids.

Yet, amid the panic over thousands of Filipinos having to come home from Saudi, I am wondering if Saudization is only part of a broader strategy on the part of Saudi officials to bargain over the conditions of foreign workers.

Saudization was announced as early as 2006 but has been going very slowly. This program includes incentives for companies that would move in the direction of hiring more local employees. There was also a Nitaqat system where companies would be color-coded according to the composition of their work force. Green companies are those where at least 10 percent are Saudi nationals. These companies will continue to be able to hire foreigners as long as they keep that minimum percentage. Companies where Saudi nationals comprise less than 10 percent of the total will have to phase out foreigners, with no new working permits for the ones who have stayed in Saudi for more than six years. Finally, “red” companies are those that have no local employees at all, and will not be given permits to hire any more foreigners.

If Saudization is to be seriously implemented, it would mean that the relatively unskilled foreign workers would be at greatest risk of being sent home. Unfortunately, this includes many Filipinos, for example, those working as domestic helpers.

News reports now carry estimates of the number of Filipinos who might lose jobs with Saudization. Our government estimates “only” about 140,000 Filipinos would lose their jobs but other reports from the recruiting firms project that as many as 350,000 might lose their jobs.

Fears of a shrinking job market are not just for Saudi but for other Middle Eastern countries which are also talking about getting more local people to work. Thus we read now of “Emiratization,” “Omanization” and “Qatarization.”

Behind the scenes

I would have just shrugged my shoulders and say that Saudization was inevitable but over the weekend, while searching for information on the Internet about a CNN feature, I stumbled on a news item that is making me wonder if there’s more to all this than just Saudization.

Last June 16, the Saudi government beheaded an Indonesian maid, Ruyati binti Sapubi, on charges of murder. There was national outrage and grief over the execution in Indonesia, especially because Saudi officials did not inform the Indonesian government about the date of the execution.

A second Indonesian maid, Darsem binti Dawud Tawar, was then scheduled for beheading for killing a relative of her employer. The Indonesian woman pleaded self-defense, claiming the man had tried to rape her. This time, with strong public pressure to take action, the Indonesian government agreed to pay diyat or “blood money” to relatives of the slain man. The diyat was 2 million riyals or $533,000. The Indonesian maid was released and was able to fly home to Indonesia.

Indonesians, however, continued to push their government to negotiate for more humane working conditions. The Indonesian government announced they would begin a moratorium on sending more maids to Saudi.

At around the same time, our government was also negotiating with Saudi Arabia for a minimum monthly salary of $350 for domestic helpers. The Saudis were said to have objected, saying they were willing to go only up to $200.

Then the Saudi government turned the tables around and declared their own August 1 moratorium on hiring.

Broad alliance

Indonesian and Filipino labor officials should be talking to each other and forming an alliance to better bargain with the Saudis.

When Indonesia began to accelerate its export of laborers, it looked to the Philippines for model policies because we began much earlier sending workers overseas. Unfortunately, in the area of domestic workers, the Indonesians may have inadvertently made it more difficult for Filipinos to assert their rights when they jumped on this labor export bandwagon. In Hong Kong, for example, some employers have shifted away from Filipinos to hire Indonesian and Nepali women, who are said to be more docile and obedient than Filipinos. Many Hong Kong employers have however continued to hire Filipinos because our women still have an edge in terms of English proficiency and education, what with nannies having degrees in care giving, education, midwifery and occasionally nursing.

Whenever I am in Hong Kong I visit NGOs that work to protect domestic helpers in general, especially those from Indonesia and Nepal. Not surprisingly, the NGOs are run mainly by Filipinos, including some who are themselves domestic helpers.

In Saudi Arabia, Filipinos have less democratic space to assert their rights, and are more likely to be in a similar situation as Indonesians in terms of poor working conditions and risks such as sexual harassment. The story of the two Indonesian maids remind us of what our own women have gone through, not only in Saudi but also in more hospitable, but still difficult, environments like Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. The fact is that Indonesian and Filipino domestic helpers are seen almost like slaves in Saudi, to be used and abused.

Some of the Internet articles about Darsem binti Dawud Tawar had photographs of her reunited with a very young son. It turns out the boy was just a baby when she left in 2006. The rape and the murder took place in 2009. It was five years since she left Indonesia, and if it had not been for the government paying the diyat, her son would have never seen her again.

We have had so many similar stories and it’s time to ask if it is all worth the riyals and dollars. It is heartbreaking to read that Saudis feel $200 is all our maids deserve. That’s about P8,600, way below what a minimum wage earner would get in a month here in Metro Manila. We know of course that such jobs are still hard to find, so it’s the ones in most need, like those with very young children, who will have to leave and work overseas.

Much now will depend on the efforts and negotiating acumen of the governments of the Philippines and Indonesia to find ways to protect our workers. The Saudis are playing the game with Saudization as a gambit. They will be watching our next move.

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  • Anonymous

    10% of Saudi national in a company is a very small portion of a workforce. These figure  shows that trust and confidence level of the management is still below what is expected from expats & to only abide the mandate of the govt.When I was in SA, Saudis dont normally given critical roles as others (expats) does. They come and leave the office as they please.I mean, where do you find an employee in the middle of the office hours lounging on the carpet floor reading newspaper and sipping tea and no one bothers to rebuke him. The lowest job position a Saudi will accept is a Security Guard that means sitting all day long…

    • Kokoy Tos

      i agree with you totally.. i’ve been there also.

    • Anonymous

      As a teacher for Aramco Saudi employees, I can safely say that the average Saudi is averse to work. In layman’s term “tamad” at walang ambition sa buhay. They hardly wash their cars much less pick up garbage. Basta may tea, Kapsah, and koran, ayos na ang buhay ng Saudi. Saudis hate education, suffice it to know the Koran by heart and pray five times a day. They hate academics, the fact that the Americans run their giant oil company, and so they also hate school. They go to school training largely because they are paid overtime for the hours they spend in class. Saudi Arabia can’t do without expats otherwise its economy will collapse like timber. The only job a Saudi would want to do is sit behind the cash register and count his money. Saudization? possibly in the next ten years or more but not soon. Relax, OFWS, your jobs are safe..

  • Elena Hirang

    mr tan,
    saudi cannot afford to pay domestic workers/foreign workers $350, they can only pay upto $200. that’s the law of economics. how can you complain, when in the philippines, a maid can only get upto P2000/mo or $50? if you think the maids deserve $350, i would like to see proof that you are paying your maid such.

    • Ryan

      I think the whole idea of the article is pointing not just the salary but the condition of the filipino maids in saudi arabia, most of them are treated like slave, even arab women are slave by men.and even it’s 200 dollar by default, this will change by another contract by agency. lucky of those really receiving the correct specified salary of 200 usd.

      The way things should be negotiated is the welfare of the filipina maids, protection and human rights.
      but this is impossible in that country.

    • Rostum Jaucian

      It’s not the money that matters Ms. Elena,it’s the humane treatment that really counts. Hoping that Philippine government will stick to their mandatory $400 monthly salary, so that only the westernized educated and can afford Saudis could hire home service workers Filipinas.

    • Yakan Yaw

      sa bulacan ang kasambahay ko regularly receives her monthly salary of 3K/mo. with benefits such as SSS + Philhealth + 15days paid yearly vacation + free bus fare (Php1,500 back & forth from region 2). She eats the same food as we eat and joins us when we go malling. Sa saudi, most were not regularly paid or may even be underpaid based on their signed contract, mga tira tira lang pinapakain sa kanila, malling is no, no for them. 

      What our gov’t. wanted is the protection of our DH kc because they are prone to abuses, especially sexual, kc walang pakialaman mga magkakapitbahay pra humingi ka ng tulong sa knila pag my pang aabuso na ginagawa. 

    • Andy Dufresne


  • Francis

    Saudization will affect foreigners whose jobs the Saudis want to take and have, like Engineers, Managers, Sales and Marketing staff, bank personnel, accountants.  They don’t want to become maids.  They don’t want to take blue-collared jobs.  So Saudization is not a gambit to be used for househelp negotiations. 

    Saudization and the Nitaqat is now being pushed strongly because of the unemployment problem of Saudi youth and Saudi women.  If the unemployment problem is not solved immediately, Saudi Arabia might go the way of Egypt, Libya, Syria, etc.  No government or ruler would want that to happen. 

  • Alex

    dapat maghigpit na rin gobyerno ng pilipinas sa pagbibigay ng working permit o working visa sa mga dayuhan na nag tratrabaho at rumaraket sa pilipinas e kaso napapansin ko kaliwat kanan mga dayuhan o fil am na lumalabas sa tv o di naman naglalaro sa sports. brazilian, fil-ams dapat prioridad ng gobyerno na mabigyan ng trabaho mga pilipino sa sarili nating bansa. siguro napapanahon na magkaroon ng national ID para malaman kung sino illegal alien sa bansa natin oh yung mga citizen sa pinas.

  • Anonymous

    While it is true that Saudization thru the Nitaqat system will greatly affect the unskilled foreign workers, this however will not affect those working as domestic helpers as stated in your column. The color coding of the Nitaqat system will be implemented on all companies in Saudi Arabia but not on individual households. Hence, domestic workers such as maids, drivers, gardeners, etc. will not be affected. Moreover, companies employing less than 9 people are exempted from Nitaqat system.

    On deployment of female workers particularly household workers in Saudi Arabia and in the Middle East, I support total ban based on the abuse, maltreatment, non-payment of salaries, torture, humiliation, indignation, etc. suffered by our female OFW’s in this country. We
    have heard harrowing stories that our kababayans suffered from their employers. I am quite sure that the embassy officials in Saudi Arabia knows very well these abuses as they are the ones handling their cases.  But let us not forget also those victims who preferred to keep silent on these abuses.

    The safety and dignity of our kababayans is far more valuable than any amount of money.

  • Anonymous

    This time around, the King is seriously concerned that growing frustrations over widespread unemployment among the younger generation will lead to civil unrest, similar to recent incidences in other countries in the Middle East.  This is the main reason they are seriously pursuing the implementation of this new Nitaqat program.  

  • Andres Magdiwang

    i think its high time for the government to look very deep and sincere in this area. are we that poor to be treated this way?have we got nothing left on us, even a gram of pride? we are negotiating only for the rate of wages..not the conditions? the protections of our labor force?of our unskilled labor, our maids.
    wala na ba talagang magagwa sa bansa natin para di na kailangang umalis ng mga ina? recently, i know of a very young girl (17) who got pregnant-her mother is working abroad. could it be a different matter had her mother stayed in the country to guide her? how about a girl who was seated beside me in the plane. she even find it difficult to fill out the immigration form, and said she was abroad working (middle east) for 3 years, and she looked less than 20 to me…golly…these people will not leave if they have choices here. and their level of contentment is not high…a simple life, with the family-have you read the story of the family in pangasinan featured yesterday? thats just it. 3 meals. a roof. some clothes with no holes…
    i think the govt is trying to plug the problem. not solve it…

  • Anonymous

    Bakit naman kasi naging policy ang i-export and mga workers natin? The policy should have been to attract foreign investors and promote local investments and help small to medium sized businesses. Instead ang mga gobyerno natin for the past 30 years did not do their job. Instead – ang inatupag eh kung paano nila ikukurakot ang pera ng bayan. Si Juan Dela Tanga naman – sige boto lang kay buwaya – basta’t konting song and dance number lang bigay na ang boto. Kaya ayun – tagapunas tayo ngayon ng mga wetpu ng dayuhan.

  • Andy Dufresne

    I am only curious,

    Correct me if I’m wrong: “Saudization was announced as early as 2006″, does this mean that our tax-fed government officials only learned about Saudization 5 years ago?

    Bakit ganun, 1995 palang while in college pinagsasabihan nako ng tatay ko na mag-tipid sa pinapadala nya dahil hindi raw masasabi ang pwedeng mangyari, he mentioned this when his boss, an Egyptian doctor, informed him about the plan of the Saudi government to hire locals. Yes, he used the term ‘Saudization”.

    If my father, a simple OFW ay nakakuha ng ganyang balita as early as 1995 bakit yung mga officials nuon hindi pa nila alam or “walang pakialam?”. Well……………………………………

    For me 2006 is crap, an excuse, excuse para masabing “walang time para makapag handa”. although madami ng paghahanda ang magagawa sa 5 years ano pakaya sa 11 years.


    • henry

      totoo yan. 1993 pa lang nandun ako sa saudi, talk of the ofws na ang saudization but we were not bothered kasi we were skilled workers and we were very sure that no saudi citizen could and would not dare do our line of work. Those in peril to lose their jobs then were the limousine drivers, bus drivers, security personnel and the like.
      But this rumor died down, the ph government became complacent, never had the foresight that this rumor may come true. Ngayong nagkatotoo na, nagkacramming na kung saan isasaksak ang mawawalan ng trabaho. Gradual naman ang saudization kaya may panahon pa.
      Ang isipin ngayon ng gobyerno, Saudi lang ba ang pwedeng magsaudization? Kung manggaya ang dubai, kuwait, uae, canada, australia, quo vadis, lagalag na pinoy? 

  • Anonymous

    Recently, the Saudi government imposed ban on recruitment of domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia. On the Philippine side, the reason for banning the domestic workers are the conditions and requirements imposed by our government such as USD400.00 minimum monthly salary, sketch of the employers house, etc. which are all for the protection of our workers.

    There was a news article earlier stating that our government will send delegation to Saudi Arabia concerning this issue. What for? Does it mean that we are softening our stand to protect our domestic workers particularly the maids? Does the remittance of these workers that our government
    is benefitting is far more important than the lives and dignities of our kababayans?

    If our government will soften its stand on this issue and will bow down to what the Saudi government demands, it will only embolden the Saudi citizens to continue their abuse and disrespect to our domestic workers. They imposed the ban, let us enforce it. No female workers should be sent to Saudi Arabia.

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