21 November 2022
In the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic or APEC Summit being held in Bangkok, Thailand, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised that the Saudi government will shoulder the 2 billion-riyal payment for the unpaid salaries and end of service benefits of more than 10,000 Filipino construction workers who worked for KSA construction companies that went bankrupt in 2015 and 2016.
This is a victory of the more than 10,000 Filipino construction workers who fought for their salaries and benefits since 2015 and 2016. It is their collective action and protests that forced the Philippine government to suspend OFW deployment to the KSA and demand that they get the payment they worked for. They called attention to the plight of construction workers and other OFWs in the KSA and the world and forced the government, which implements a Labor Export Policy, to take action for its people whom it shamelessly exports.
Now that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has made an official statement, the Philippine government should provide advance payments to the more than 10,000 OFWs. The construction workers and their families have suffered for too long, and are now surely suffering from the high prices of food and other basic goods in the country. They need immediate relief, which in this case can come from the salaries and benefits that they have worked and fought for through years. They have done their part; the government should show its compassion.
At the same time, we demand that the names of all construction companies that are responsible for the non-payment be made public, as Saudi Oger, Binladen and MMG, the biggest companies, are the only ones publicly known. This is to ensure that all workers who should receive their salaries and benefits actually get these. We also demand that other OFWs who were laid off due to company closures in 2015-2016 be also given their salaries and benefits. Many smaller companies laid off workers during these crisis years, failed to pay their employees, and did not file for bankruptcy. We demand that the Philippine government press for their accountability to their employees, and that the Saudi government help the OFWs in this regard.
We know for a fact that cases of wage theft in the form of unpaid wages and benefits and giving workers’ wages lower than those stipulated in their contracts are rampant among OFWs in the KSA. We also know for a fact that the Philippine government has failed to help many of these OFWs. What happened to the bond that KSA companies should have paid to private recruitment or employment agencies for cases of wage theft and other violations of labor rights?
While the results of President Bongbong Marcos’s negotiations with the KSA Crown Prince are positive, the motives of his government are not. The Marcos government wants to continue deploying OFWs to the KSA and other countries. While this may provide short-term benefits to OFWs and the economy, it still shows the country’s over-dependence on labor export and the government’s failure to generate employment at home in failing to improve industries and agriculture. As long as the government’s labor export policy is in place, cases of abuse such as those faced by the OFWs in KSA will persist.###