Support statement for OFWs’ lawsuit vs. Grand Isle Shipyard Justice for victims of Black Elk explosion, stop human trafficking!

Migrante Partylist today expressed support for and strong solidarity with at least 80 Filipino migrant workers who filed a class suit against companies Grand Isle Shipyard, Black Elk Energy and DNR Offshore Crewing Services.

The Grand Isle Shipyard is a company based in Louisiana, USA that hired and deployed Filipino migrant workers to oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico, specifically Black Elk Energy. Filipino workers were recruited in the Philippines through local agency DNR Offshore Crewing Services.

Last November 16, 2012, three Filipino welders were killed while three more were severely injured in the explosion that rocked Black Elk. The Filipino casualties were identified as Avelino Tajonera, Ellroy Corporal and Jerome Malagapo. Black Elk has since had a history of safety problems. Since 2010, Black Elk has been cited 315 times for safety violations. In 2012, Black Elk was cited for 45 incidents of non-compliance to company safety standards.

As a result of the tragedy, more than 80 OFWs filed a class action for violation of the FLSA, discrimination, labor trafficking, slavery and forced servitude, and fraud. The class suit is currently pending at the Louisiana Federal Court.

Since their employment by the said companies in 2005, the Filipino migrant workers have experienced abuses and violations of their rights. They were refused days off, made to work 12-14 hours a day without overtime pay, made to pay illegal fees, were refused visits from and to their families, discriminated against (not allowed to speak to their American co-workers), threatened of deportation and other labor violations.

One worker plaintiff, Saxon Gannod, became temporarily blind because of welding for long hours without rest. While getting medical treatment, he was continuously required to work. Another worker burned inside a tank. He only received three days of medical treatment. Instead, he was hidden in one of the recruiter’s homes without sufficient medical treatment.

At least 500 Filipino workers will potentially benefit should the complainants win the class suit. While American workers enjoy the civil liberties granted any other worker in the US – namely, days off and work holidays and other benefits – Filipino workers are treated like slaves and blatantly discriminated against.

They are being guarded 24 hours a day. Surveillance cameras are set up outside their bunkhouses to prevent them from leaving or escaping. They are asked to leave their rooms and vacate their beds should an American worker decide that he wants to occupy it. Filipino workers are also charged US$1000-US$3000 a month per person for rental of their bunk beds.

Migrante Partylist fully supports the fight of Filipino workers in the said companies and vow to actively campaign for the immediate resolution of their plight. The violations committed by the companies against them are unacceptable. The companies perpetuate modern-day slavery and allow for the discrimination and dehumanization of migrant workers.

Migrante Partylist calls for justice for the three Filipinos who died in the Black Elk explosion. It calls on both Philippine and US Congress to conduct an independent and thorough investigation of the tragedy.

It also calls on the Philippine and US governments to investigate, punish and hold accountable perpetrators of labor trafficking, contract substitution and contract violations of the Filipino migrant workers.

Migrante Partylist likewise denounces any form of neglect and possible white-wash by the Philippine Embassy in the US for denying knowledge about the lawsuit. According to the migrant workers, they have requested a dialogue with the Philippine Ambassador but he refused. In a media interview right after the explosion, he even had the gall to declare that “all is fine” and that “they (Philippine government) are looking forward to bringing in more workers to the companies.

As in other cases of trafficking, discrimination, abuse and exploitation of Filipino migrant workers in the US and elsewhere, it has been proven time and again that only through unity and collective action can Filipino migrant workers assert their rights and obtain justice. ###