CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 22 June 2019

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Help demanded for stranded workers in Saudi Arabia

HONG KONG (SE): The Migrante Partylist is calling for better protection for overseas Filipino workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as their job security is currently in doubt due to the current economic crisis caused by falling oil prices.

Its international coordinator, Garry Martinez, said at a press conference held in Manila on March 11, during which workers spoke via Skype from Saudi, that immediate assistance for stranded Filipinos in the kingdom is vital.

Workers from Saudi Oger in Jeddah, Bin Laden Group in Riyadh, Al Aman Modern Power Corporation Limited in Jeddah, Moh’d Hameed Al-Bargash and Brothers Trading and Contracting Corporation in Eastern Region and Abdulaziz Al-Fohan in Dammam told the conference about the dilemma of their situation.

They were joined by their families in Manila, as well as returned workers from Moh’d Hameed Al-Bargash and the Bin Laden Group.

Martinez said that thousands of workers are currently idle, as their iqamas (work permits) have not been not renewed. Some have had their wages withheld for up to six months and others their work hours cut.

He added they that not only are they bored, but deeply troubled, wondering how they can support their families back home. Some had already left their jobs in protest against the withholding of their wages.

During the press conference, overseas Filipino workers and their families demanded that the Philippine government immediately repatriate workers in trouble from Saudi, as well as give those who have filed labour cases legal assistance, in addition to issuing a ban on further deployment to bankrupt and crisis-ridden companies.

Returned workers and their families also asked for emergency financial assistance and the provision of a comprehensive reintegration programme.

Martinez recalled that during a dialogue facilitated by Migrante between stranded workers’ families and the Department of Foreign Affairs, an official admitted that the government should be gearing up for an emergency mass repatriation.

The official added that Saudi government funding of the war is the root cause behind the mass bankruptcies.

Martinez was told that the Bin Laden Group has already started selling off equipment to pay those who have filed labour cases against it.

He quoted workers as saying that the Department of Labour and Employment had sent envoys to meet with Saudi Oger and the Bin Laden Group following complaints from thousands of workers at the two companies.

“This is an initial triumph for distressed workers because the Philippine government has finally been compelled to address the crisis instead of downplaying it,” Martinez said.

While the Department of Labour and Employment promised assistance in the filing of cases before the Saudi Ministry of Labour, the workers told him that they fear that the Philippine Overseas Labour Office may once again broker a settlement with the companies, as it did with other companies that have withheld wages for more than a year.

Martinez pointed out that the Philippine government should not limit its intervention to the two companies alone.

The returned workers and the families of those stranded in Saudi held a rally in front of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in Pasay City later in the day demanding it file for emergency repatriation and financial assistance.

Families from Cebu, Davao, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Laguna, Cavite, Iloilo, Bacolod and Isabela have also come together to demand protection, emergency benefits and a comprehensive reintegration programme for their loved ones who are expected to return in the following weeks.

Labour secretary, Rosalinda Baldoz, was quoted by the Inquirer on February 8 as saying that an estimated 1.5 million Filipinos classified as temporary workers in the Middle East are subject to displacement if the region’s oil industry starts layoffs to due to industrial overcapacity.

The temporary workers account for about 75 per cent of the two million Filipinos in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is presently the largest hirer of Filipinos and has the largest Filipino population in the Middle East—the fourth biggest group of migrants in the country.

 

It was also the second largest remittance-sending country in 2014. 

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