Manila – On the second day of their historic protest camp-out, repatriated Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) camping out in front of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) today formed a human chain around the agency’s building to dramatize their demand for justice.
Vowing not to leave the OWWA premises until they are given airfare refund and immediate financial and medical assistance, the women workers of Annasban linked arms with members of women’s organizations who went to their camp-out to show support.
“We are forming this human chain to show that we are never again allowing ourselves to be deceived by the government who abandoned us when we were being treated like slaves abroad, and continue to treat us like dirt in our own country. Enough is enough! We will not leave until justice is served,” said Joy Flancia, one of the camping out Annasban workers.
Yesterday, OWWA administrator Carmelita Dimzon evaded the Annasban workers and instead sent OWWA director Abet Valenciano to placate them that they will be given P10,000 cash to be picked-up at NRCO in Intramuros on Friday. But the workers said this is the same promise they got last week, which “will entangle them again in red tape.”
“We don’t want mere promises. We want action! Actually, the amount we are asking for is only a pittance, as the OWWA collects billions of pesos from OFWs. There can only be one reason why the OWWA and the Arroyo government can’t give us what we are rightfully due: it has no real heart for OFWs,” said Flancia.
The OFWs are victims of contract substitution which reduced their wage rates, increased their hours of work, and denied them benefits — by the Annasban Group of Companies in Saudi Arabia. They were forced to stage a work stoppage since October last year to call the attention of the Philippine consulate to their plight and demand repatriation. After an exceedingly slow response, most were finally repatriated last February.
But the workers claim that they were tricked by RP officials who said the OWWA will pay for their airfare—these were later deducted by Annasban from their salaries. There are also five remaining workers who have yet to be repatriated. The workers were promised by OWWA of financial and medical assistance upon returning home, but they received none.
“The case of the Annasban workers is just an example of how the OWWA Omnibus Policies, enacted in 2003, severely limited the assistance being given to OFWs to the point of inutility. It tests the OFWs’ patience, and pushes them to active struggle, such as this historic camp-out. We call on every concerned citizen, especially OFWs who have experienced government neglect, to support them,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.
Yesterday, the workers also filed cases against their recruitment agencies in a mass docketing at the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, symbolic of their rejection of the conciliation process, which they condemned as a widespread practice meant to exculpate illegal recruiters from crime. They are demanding that Annasban be banned from recruiting Filipino laborers. For its illegal and anti-labor practices, Annasban was already banned last 2005 but this ban had been lifted by the POEA in 2008.
“Can President Arroyo still claim that it does not conspire with illegal recruiters and erring employers? Can she still claim that she has given service to OFWs, except lip service? The case of the Annasban workers is clearly an indictment of the nine years of neglect and abuse of OFWs under her government,” said Martinez.
The camping out women workers will join the International Women’s Day protest on March 8 to signify their resoluteness in joining other sectors of society, especially women, in the struggle for justice and societal change.