2 years under PNoy 180 workers in Saudi hold hunger strike, families in PH stage “solidarity fasting”

Migrante International today joined the families of 180 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia who are staging a hunger strike in Riyadh to protest illegal recruitment, abusive employers and government neglect. The families held a simultaneous “solidarity fasting” today at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

The workers, 98 OFWs from Al Swayeh company, 48 cleaners from Al-Zahran company, 17 workers from Al-Naseeb Establishment and 19 OFWs from Al Sabillah Construction, and other individual repatriation cases – all complained of maltreatment and abuse by their respective employers.

They were all deployed to Saudi by active 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, 4 Brothers, and other still unidentified agencies.

The OFWs were all victims of illegal recruitment and contract violations – overcharging of placement fees, contract substitution, collection of fees without official receipts, collection of excessive fees, loans with high interest rates, poor working accommodations, illegal salary deductions, non-issuance of IQAMA (working permit), non-payment of salaries in 10 months to over one year, no overtime pay, 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 and are awaiting decision.

According to Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, 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 respective strikes and ‘stop-work protests’ against their companies. They appealed to the PH embassy to help them but they were left to tend for themselves. Eventually, they ran out of food and resources,” Martinez said.

In an appeal letter addressed to Migrante, the OFWs said, “Mula po noong sumulat kami sa Embassy noong October 2011, hanggang ngayon ay wala pang sagot. Noong January 15, nagkaroon ng harassment dito sa loob ng aming compound na umabot hanggang nakaputukan ng baril. Noong oras ding iyon ay ipinaalam naming kay Ambassador Ezzedin H. Tago ang nangyari. Kinabukasan ay dumating si Consul Reyes na nagbitiw ng pangakong siya ang tutulong sa pagpapauwi sa amin sa lalong madaling panahon. Pero hanggang ngayon ay wala pa ring nangyayari.”

Last February 13, they were told to go to Mr. Sebastian Rodrigo and Mr. Sami Ampang in the Philippine Labor Office in Saudi to claim their unpaid wages. When they got there, however, the two told them that they could not do anything to help the OFWs.

Due to the OFWs sustained protests, the companies later relented and gave the unpaid wages to some of the OFWs. “However, we are still awaiting repatriation. Gustong-gusto na naming umuwi dahil sa sinapit namin dito. Pero hanggang ngayon ay hindi pa rin napo-proseso ng Embahada at ng aming mga agency ang mga exit clearance at ticket namin pauwi,” they said.

The OFWs and their families are also demanding the suspension of the licenses and banning of the erring recruitment agencies, the refund of their placement fees and financial assistance from the government.

“Under Pres. Aquino’s two years, more and more OFWs suffer labor rights abuses and violations after being deployed by duly-licensed recruitment agencies. Sadly, these agencies continue to operate despite their bad records. We demand that involved agencies be banned and duly-sanctioned by the POEA and negligent embassy officials be punsihed,” Martinez said.

The 180 OFWs are mulling holding another hunger strike on July 23, to coincide with the People’s SONA (State of the Nation Address), while their families will be marching with Migrante International in the SONA protests. ###