After enduring contract-substitution and being underpaid, overworked, and intimidated by the company they were working for, 11 OFWs in Kuwait decided to file a complaint and fight for their rights. And what did Philippine Labor officials do? It tried to discourage them. Labor officials even tried to persuade them to sign a paper that effectively absolves the company from any responsibility and accountability.
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
Vol. VIII, No. 4, February 24-March 1, 2008
“Wala na kaming tiwala kahit ‘dun pa sa (POLO) Kuwait. Naobserve na namin ’dun pa lang iba na treatment.” (We do not trust the Philippine Labor Office in Kuwait. We have already observed when we were there that they treated us differently.)
Despite feeling neglected by and losing their trust on the government, Josephine Tuburan and Gemma Limsan were able to derive courage from their fellow overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who shared the same fate as them. Like them, they were also exploited but they chose to stand up against their employer Al Essa Medicare Company in Kuwait.
Oppressive work conditions
Tuburan was working as a midwife in Kidapawan, North Cotabato while Limsan was a nurse in Tagum, Davao before trying their luck as caregivers in Kuwait.
They already sensed that there were problems in their overseas employment since the time they were about to depart from Manila last April 2007. Tuburan said they were told by an airport employee that their case was complicated because there were job postings for caregivers in Kuwait, only for nursing attendants.
True enough, Tuburan said, they encountered a lot of problems such as salary deductions, unpaid overtime work, no days off, as well as having to live with other oppressive company policies.
For 10 months, “nursing attendants” like Tuburan and Limsan received only KD70 ($256) a month, working 10 hours daily, with additional KD15 for two hours of overtime. This was way below the legal rate of KD120 and up. They work in homes or in hospitals, wherever their patient is.
The contract that they signed in the Philippines provided them with one day off a week. Another contract, which they were made to sign when they arrived in Kuwait stipulated that they would have two days off a week. But when they started working, they were not allowed to take a day off. “Hindi pa ibibigay ‘yung KD15 ‘pag ’di ka nagtrabaho ng 15 days straight,” (We were not even given the KD 15 overtime pay if we were not able to work for 15 days straight.) complained Limsan.
She added that they did not have sick leave. Whenever they got sick or went for a medical check-up, they had to pay the company KD1.
And although they were given KD10 a month as food allowance, the two said, they hardly ate right because they were only allowed to go out to buy their groceries twice a month. Thus, Limsan said, “Nagkakanakawan na sa ref, syempre sa gutom ‘yung iba kakainin na lang kahit hindi sa kanila.” (Because of hunger, our co-workers ate whatever food they find in the refrigerator even if it was not theirs.)
Worse, Tuburan said, other OFWs, including herself, resorted to eating the leftover food of their patients just to be able to endure long hours of duty.
They also complained of the long travel time from their hostel to the facility. Even with a company bus, the two said, it would take them three hours to reach the hostel since there were several of them being serviced by the bus. “Biro mo 12 hours na trabaho tapos tatlong oras na byahe. Magluluto ka pa pagdating. Ilang oras na lang tulog mo no’n?” (Imagine that, we had to work for 12 hours then travel for three hours going home. We even had to cook after reaching our hostel. How many hours of sleep could we get?) said Limsan.
But what bothered them a lot were the salary deductions. Their agency, Care Plus International Services, got half of their salary for six months¾four months to cover their airfare and two months for visa processing costs. When they needed to send money to their families, they had to request the agency to make the deductions the following month so they would receive their salary in whole. Thus, for the succeeding month, they would not receive any salary. When Tuburan requested for a stay in the deduction for a month and was already able to pay the delayed deduction the succeeding month, the agency still did not return her promissory even if she demanded for it.
Confirming her fears, the company, Tuburan said, made another deduction from her salary for the same visa processing costs, which was already deducted form her previously, plus medical expenses. What is strange, said Tuburan, is that they had paid for the cost of their visa processing before their departure. She added that her debt reached P50,000 ($1,230 at an exchange rate of $1=P40.64) for the processing of her papers.
They received their salary through an automated teller machine (ATM). They were not asked to sign anything and were not given a payslip, which is supposed to provide the details of their salary and the deductions.
Later, they found out that the company made a deduction for a supposed training that was conducted by the Ministry of Health, which never transpired. They were told that an earlier batch of workers was also charged for the same training, which never happened.