We have waited too long, we demand justice and aid now! President Duterte and Secretary Bello should act and deliver on their promises and we demand justice and aid. This was the resounding call declared on Wednesday, February 16 by Saudi OFWs in a press conference who lost their jobs almost five years ago in 2015 when thousands of OFWs experienced mass retrenchment, contract violations and non-payment of their wages and benefits due to the Saudi oil and economic crisis.
Anthony Patiag, former OFW at Rajeh H. Al-Marri & Sons Co. (RHM) expressed dismay at the Duterte government’s promises to provide assistance to OFWs who lost their jobs when their Saudi Arabia companies filed for bankruptcy in 2015 and did not pay their workers their wages and benefits. Mr. Patiag and his fellow OFWs at RHM won their labor claims against the company in Saudi Labor court but the claim remains to be fully unenforced. According to him, only a few out of 174 employees were able to claim their end of service benefits and once they were repatriated back to the Philippines only a few received any form of financial aid from the government.
Trinidad Cruz, also a former RFM employee shared how POLO-OWWA staff in Saudi Arabia assured them to wait for three months to receive their labor claims but few months turned into years and they were forced to resort to scavenging for food in order to survive there. “I suffered physically, emotionally and mentally until I agreed to sign a waiver so I could go home to my family for fear of dying of hunger there,” he said. He expressed disappointment for the promises made to distressed OFWs by the Philippine government remains unfulfilled.
Romeo Jaboli, who worked for 10 years in Saudi Arabia for Drake and Scull Companya and finished his employment contract, sought assistance from the POLO-OWWA in Saudi Arabia to claim his unpaid wages and benefits but only received 50% of his labor claim. After he returned home in January 2016, he reported to the POEA where he was directed to go to an OWWA office, then to another OWWA office, until the pandemic struck. “I am appealing to President Duterte and Secretary Bello to do their job. It is quite simple if they really want to help the suffering OFWs,” he asserted.
The recent program of DOLE to provide financial relief assistace for affected Saudi OFWs in the amount of Php10K limits the beneficiaries to those who were repatriated from 2016-2019, excluding other Saudi OFWs who also pending labor claims. “Why can’t an active OWWA member receive any benefits after contributing payments for 15 years?”, exclaimed Danilo Bringera, an OFW who also worked for RHM for seven years. Mr. Bringera tried to seek financial assistance from OWWA since he has always been an active member but until now has not received any aid. “What is the use of being an OWWA member if we don’t benefit from it at all?”, he lamented.
To end, Victor Carreon, former OFW with Drake and Scull called on President Duterte and Secretary Bello to take immediate action. “How long do we have to wait to receive support?”he asks.
In response to the clamor of thousands of Saudi OFWs demanding for payment of their wages and end of service benefits, the DOLE declared a deployment ban to Saudi Arabia for household workers and construction workers. “Implementing a deployment ban is not the solution. It seems to be the only weapon used by the PH government in cases of grave rights violations of our OFWs but it remains ineffective. It is a tactic to quell the despair and anger of our OFWs, but does not help in achieving justice.” The Duterte administration had almost five years to act, five years to explore other strategies to ensure the rights of all our Saudi OFWs to their wages and benefits are respected.” Migrante International Chairperson, Joanna Concepcion declared.
Furthermore, “the deployment ban places at risk the livelihood and survival of our kababayans who were supposed to start ther work contracts in Saudi but are now stranded in the Philippines until the ban is lifted. Without a plan in place to provide financial aid for these affected would-be OFWs, the Duterte government only causes more sufferring to our kababayans.” Concepcion stated.
Migrante International denounces any moves of the Duterte administration that takes advantage of our OFWs and using them as scapegoats for their failure to ensure the full protection of our migrant workers.
Migrante International pledged to continue its support to Saudi OFWs in their fight for wages, benefits and aid.###