BY JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Last April 2, 2009, four Filipino migrant laborers working for CIFEX World Construction Firm based in Libya, were abducted and detained in a high fenced abandoned building, away from the accommodation that was provided to them by their employer.
With their cell phones confiscated, they did not have any means to communicate with their family, friends, and colleagues. Then, they were forced to sign a termination letter and were sent home the following day, April 3, 2009.
Now they are back in the country and determined to seek justice for what happened to them in Libya. They were surprised when they found out that they were not alone in the struggle.
A different contract
It was September 2008 when Ruel Ramos, 46, applied at Sharikat Al-Saedi International Manpower as a contractual laborer in Libya and was eventually accepted for the job. He then turned to a loan shark to borrow money for his P25,000 ($535 at the September 2008 exchange rate of $1=P46.69) placement fee.
He later on signed a one-year contract with the agency that stipulated a $300 salary, free food and accommodation, eight-hour work day, overtime time pay and a rest day per week. They were scheduled to leave January 12, 2009.
Minutes before they left the airport, representatives from their agency asked them to sign another contract, “Dyan ko nalaman na yung POEA approved na vinerify ni Nasser Mustafa, ang labor attache sa Libya, ay ang sweldo ko pala dyan ay $500,” (That was the only time that we learned that our contract of employment that was approved by the POEA or the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and verified by Nasser Mustafa, Philippine labor attaché to Libya stipulated that our salary was supposedly $500.)
“Doon din lang namin nalaman na ang visa pala namin ay business visa at hindi isang working visa,” (It was also only then that we learned that we had a business visa instead of a working visa.)
But since Ramos was already at the airport, a few minutes away from his flight, he still went to Libya.
An unusual welcome
But a worse fate welcomed him upon arriving at Libya. He was surprised that many Egyptians working for CIFEX World were engaged in a labor dispute with their employer. Ramos told Bulatlat that they insisted that they would not start working until the labor dispute involving the Egyptian was settled.
“Hindi kami magtatrabaho talaga dahil kami ang mapapasama eh,” (We didn’t want to work immediately lest we be put in a bad light.)
On January 25, 2009, Ramos’ group started working for CIFEX World. It also marked the day that they finally realized what the Egyptians were complaining about.
Ramos said that although they were receiving the $300 salary that was stipulated in the first contract, they were required to work for 12 hours a day, with no over time pay. He also shared that they were no longer entitled to avail of their rest days. So on his first month, he only received a total of $180 and $260 for the next month.
Aside from this, they also experienced irregular water and power supply and insufficient food. The laborers were also not allowed to go out to buy personal things.
On February 6, Ramos and the other OFWs working for CIFEX World held a dialogue with a certain Mr. Omar, administrative officer of CIFEX World.
Ramos said that Omar told them that he would not honor the contract signed by the OFWs with their recruitment agency because he was not present during the contract signing. He added that Omar insisted that he would also not honor the contract approved by the POEA and verified by the Office of the Labor Attaché in Libya. He said that Omar told them that he was just compelled to sign it to get Ramos’ group.
Instead, Ramos told Bulatlat that Omar proposed that they sign another contract. The OFWs and Omar agreed that the contract would stipulate that the OFWs would earn $400 a month, have a 12-hour work day with two hours of overtime, and have a rest day once a week. But Omar did not produce the said contract for their signature. So on February 10, 19 of Ramos’ co-workers left the company without permission and sought refuge at the Philippine Embassy. Ramos and his close friends stayed behind to continue the struggle that they have started. They also sought for the assistance of Father Allan Arcebuche, OFM, who introduced them to Migrante International, an alliance of overseas Filipino workers. Ramos continued demanding for a valid contract to secure not only his own salary but his fellow Filipinos’ as well.