“The OFWs, joined by other maltreated migrant workers of other nationalities, launched strikes and ‘stop-work protests.’ They appealed to the Philippine embassy for help, but they were left to fend for themselves.”
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO and ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A “modern-day slave trader,” that is how President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino comes across now to overseas Filipino workers and their families. The OFW situation has noticeably deteriorated under Aquino’s implementation of a “more intensified, aggressive and sophisticated labor export policy,” said Garry Martinez, chairman of Migrante International, an alliance of migrant Filipino workers.
During Aquino’s first two years in office, many OFWs suffered labor rights abuses and violations after being deployed by duly-licensed recruitment agencies. Migrante International said more OFWs are coming to their office complaining of government neglect as they lodge cases of overcharging, illegal recruitment, contract substitution, abuse, human trafficking and foul play to government offices. As if these are not enough, the number of OFWs in jail and on death row also continues to increase under Aquino.
“Because of the Aquino administration’s desperation to further seek job markets abroad to rescue a sinking economy, it continues to intensify its labor export program at the expense of the rights and welfare of OFWs,” Martinez said.
OFW protests, hunger strike
Last Tuesday (July 17), families of at least 180 overseas Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia and migrants’ rights advocacy group Migrante International held a picket in front of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). They disclosed plans of holding a hunger strike starting July 30, to be participated in by the 180 OFWs who filed complaints in Saudi Arabia and their family members in the Philippines.
Their families in the Philippines have long called on the POEA and the Aquino administration to immediately repatriate their relatives in Saudi Arabia who, they say, are all victims of abusive employers and illegal recruiters.
Because of what happened to their kin abroad, their families in the Philippines asked Aquino to suspend the licenses of and ban the recruitment agencies who had brought their family members to such work conditions in Saudi Arabia.
They asked also for a refund of the placement fees they had paid, and, in the light of the difficulties their family members are suffering in Saudi Arabia, they demand financial assistance from the government.
The OFWs have lodged verified complaints that they were maltreated, denied their wages and subjected to various other labor rights violations by their respective employers. Of the 180, more than half or 104 came from the Al Swayeh company, 40 are cleaners from Zaharan company, 17 work under the Al Naseeb Establishment and 19 OFWs from Al Jhouf company, and other individual repatriation cases.
They were all deployed to Saudi Arabia by recruitment agencies licensed by the POEA, namely, Saveway International Man Power, Osims Oriental Skills International Manpower, RPF Business Management & Consultancy Inc, Irsal Employment Services Inc., GBMLT Manpower Services Inc., Nawras Manpower Services Inc. (formerly Nawras Manpower Services), Al Assal Manpower Inc., Matawi, and other still unidentified agencies.
Aquino administration, conduit of OFW suffering
According to Migrante International, the protesting OFWs in Saudi Arabia were all victims of contract substitution, non-payment of salaries for 10 months to over one year, underpayment of salaries and non-renewal of expired contracts, residence permits and medical insurances. All have filed cases at the Ministry of Labor in Saudi Arabia, which, until now, are awaiting decision.
Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairman, explained that the OFWs sought the help of Migrante-Middle East after the Philippine Embassy failed to attend to their complaints.
“The OFWs, along with other maltreated migrant workers of other nationalities, held strikes and ‘stop-work protests’ to pressure their companies. They appealed to the Philippine embassy for help, but they were left to fend for themselves. Eventually, they ran out of food and resources,” Martinez said.
In an appeal addressed to Migrante, the OFWs said, “Since we wrote the (Philippine) embassy in October 2011, we have yet to receive a response. On January 15 this year, we were attacked by unknown individuals and fired upon. That day we informed Ambassador Ezzedin H. Tago about what happened. The following morning, Consul Reyes arrived and promised that he would help us return to the Philippines. It has been months, but we’re still here and we’ve received no assistance.”
In the same letter, the OFWs reported that last February 13, they were told to go to a certain Sebastian Rodrigo and Sami Ampang in the Philippine Labor Office in Saudi Arabia to claim their unpaid wages. But when they got there, the two officials told the OFWs that they could do nothing to help them.
Because of the OFWs’ sustained protests, the companies relented and later gave some OFWs their unpaid wages.
But the OFWs still need assistance in coming home. Toward this end though, the Philippine embassy and the OFWs’ respective agencies have not yet processed their exit clearances or booked their tickets.
Suffering, neglected in Saudi Arabia
Evelyn Bañez, 35 and Aileen Cabrera, 37, are wives of distressed OFWs in Saudi Arabia. Bañez’s husband Danilo, 44, and Cabrera’s husband Angelito, 44 are among the 180 OFWs in Saudi Arabia asking for immediate repatriation.
Danilo finished his contract with the Al-Swayeh Company last March 2011. He refused to renew the contract, citing labor malpractices. Since the new management took over in 2009, their salaries got delayed and their Iqama or residence IDs were not renewed by the company.
“They can’t go out and look for another job because their Iqamas are expired. They will be jailed if the Saudi police got to them,” Bañez said.
Cabrera said her husband’s foreign co-workers have returned home. “Why are Filipino OFWs still stranded in Saudi? Some of my husband’s co-workers have gone back to their home countries— maybe their governments are working for their citizens. We hope our government does the same.”
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