March 3, 2010
In one of the most militant forms of protest by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in history, women caregivers repatriated from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia today erected a camp-out in front of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and vowed to stay until their demands for justice are met, and called on other OFW victims of neglect under the Arroyo government to join them.
“We are sick and tired of being ignored by the government, who has so far not lifted a finger to help us workers who almost died of starvation and neglect abroad. We will stay here until we are given the justice that is due to us,” said Joy Flancia, one of the former caregivers of the Annasban Group of Companies.
The OFWs from Annasban, victims of contract substitution, staged a strike in Riyadh since August last year to protest several labor violations, including several months of delayed salaries, payment of incorrect salaries (instead of the 940 Saudi Riyals stipulated in their contract, they only receive 650 SR or less), no overtime pay despite working for 12 hours or more, illegal salary deductions, and no day-off.
The Philippine Overseas Labor Office and OWWA did not immediately heed their calls for assistance and repatriation, and even blamed the workers for their woes.
“We went home penniless and mired in debt. We asked OWWA for financial assistance but were given the run-around. We were asked to apply to OWWA programs that led us to a wild-goose chase in different government agencies, so instead of helping us, it only further indebted us. We are staging this camp-out to say, ‘This is how the Arroyo government treats its so-called modern heroes,’ and we are sure that we are not the only ones,” said Flancia.
The OFWs are demanding financial and medical assistance from the OWWA, and a refund of the repatriation airfare that came out of their own pockets.
Earlier in the day, they trooped to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency for a mass docketing of cases filed against their recruitment agencies. “Instead of helping OFWs get their unpaid salaries and allowances, the POEA, as it has done in millions of other cases of OFWs, has instead offered them a settlement. This mass docketing is symbolic of their intent to punish their recruitment agencies — something that the government has not done, determined as it is only to intensify the export of workers. In the first place, Annasban has already been banned last 2005, but was only allowed to recruit again last 2008,” said Garry Martinez, chairperson of Migrante International.
The Annasban workers and Migrante, which assisted them from the beginning of their struggle, are demanding the scrapping of the OWWA Omnibus Policies, restricts OWWA membership upon expiration or termination of employment; provides for selective repatriation of migrant workers; and limits the coverage of benefits that can be availed by OFWs and their families.
“Since the implementation of the OWWA Omnibus Policies last 2003, thousands of OFWs and their families have been disenfranchised of the fund that came directly from their pockets, and the case of the Annasban workers is another glaring example. This problem will continue until these policies are scrapped. If Arroyo fails to do this, as her last to chance to prove herself to OFWs, then she will definitely go down in history as the most anti-migrants president ever,” continued Martinez.
The Annasban workers and Migrante, aside from sustaining the OWWA camp-out, will conduct a series of protest actions in the coming days, including a march to Mendiola tomorrow and participation in the multi-sectoral rally to commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8. “We salute our militant women workers, who dared voice out and act on the plight that is being shared by millions of OFWs worldwide,” concluded Martinez.
Garry Martinez, Migrante International Chairperson
Ailyn Abdula Migrante International Media Liaison