March 3, 2010
The moment has come.
Today, March 3, the mostly women OFWs of the Annasban Group of Companies have vowed never to leave the premises of OWWA until justice is served. Campout it is!
Since October last year, 88 Filipino caregivers have went into work-stoppage as the notorious Annasban Company in Saudi Arabia grossly violated their working contracts – reduced wage rates, prolonged hours of work, denial of benefits, on top of repeated verbal and physical abuse.
Annasban retaliated by locking them up in provided accomodations or hauling them into vans, leaving them in the desert.
The OFWs cried for immediate repatriation. But three months had passed without response from the Arroyo government until they went into hunger strike in January, and their own families riled the Department of Foreign Affairs for constant delays.
But soon after they won the battle for repatriation, they faced a more difficult situation at home. Their rage could not be kept still.
First, the workers had to raise money for their own airfare, when by law repatriation is borne by recruiting companies or by OWWA. Sympathetic kababayans had to contribute money to send them home.
Second, Philippine officials colluded with Annasban to send them home penniless and cheated out of just compensation. The OFWs deserved full payment for unpaid wages and benefits, for their unexpired portion of their contracts, and for damages resulting from forced detention and other forms of maltreatment.
Third, Annasban was already suspended by POEA in 2005 for blatant and inhuman abuse, but the suspension was lifted in 2008 despite ongoing and numerous other complaints.
And fourth, government agencies, particularly OWWA, treated them like dirt when they started claiming refunds for their airfare, compensation for unpaid work and damages for their ordeal as they filed charges of illegal recruitment against Annasban and others.
The case of the Annasban OFWs is the plight of anyone and all of OFWs who have suffered even more under nine years of Arroyo rule. No compensation. No justice. No gain from work-slavery going by the name labor export program.
But the case of the Annasban OFWs also points to one sure and meaningful direction – laban! Justice is gained by fighting for it, by collective struggle and wisdom, and by the support of a sympathetic public that knows the sacifices of OFWs for family and country. The campout will highlight not only the demands for airfare refunds and just compensation but also the banning of Annasban, and the punishment for erring government officials and recruiters at the very gates of OWWA. The camp-out also will focus on the plight of the still remaining five workers in Annasban who are demanding to be repatriated.
Migrante International stands by the Annasban OFWs as they continue to fight and raise their level of action to claim what is rightfully theirs. Let their campout be a symbol of their courage and steadfastness, of pushing their struggle at all odds. They had fought hard in a foreign land where conditions were even more unbearable and threatening to their persons. The fight here, in their own country, would be nothing less. But they will be secured by the thought that the chapters of Migrante in the country and from all over the world will join them in seeking justice, genuine protection and welfare for migrants. We will have no more of OWWA’s inutility. Scrap the OWWA Omnibus Policies!
At the same time, in the spirit of International Women’s Day on March 8, and by their example,we salute the Annasban OFWs who are mostly women for showing the way for women’s emancipation. Indeed, a woman’s place is in the struggle. We are confident that the Annasban OFWs will carry on!
Garry Martinez, Migrante International Chairperson
Ailyn Abdula Migrante International Media Liaison