5 March 2010
The camp-out of repatriated Annasban workers in front of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) ended in victory on its third day, when the OWWA was forced to give in to the demands of Overseas Filipino Workers who blocked the agency’s entrance yesterday in a show of anger and disgust at the Arroyo government’s neglect of OFWs.
After two nights of keeping vigil in front of the agency, the 43 Annasban workers today received and encashed cheques worth P10,000 each as financial assistance, a far cry from the “livelihood starter kit” that was a mere promise a week ago. They were also assured by the OWWA of a free medical check-up, P20,000.00 burial benefit for Elsie Pelayo, their co- worker who died several days after she was repatriated. OWWA also assured them of transportation fare to the provinces.
This compromise was achieved when OWWA administrator Carmelita Dimzon finally agreed to sit down with the workers yesterday early evening, due to workers insistence and vow not to leave the OWWA premises until their demands have been responded to. Dimzon was forced to face the workers in the final hours of the negotiation. Before this, only OWWA director Albert Valenciano was being sent to negotiate with the workers.
“This camp-out is an unprecedented victory for OFWs, because it shows what can be gained through collective and militant struggle. From their hunger strike in Riyadh to their camp-out in OWWA, these women workers of Annasban staunchly defended their rights, since the Arroyo government has consistently refused to do so,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson. “But this is only a start. The Annasban workers, who still has a long battle ahead of them with cases lodged at the POEA and cases still to be fled at the NLRC, are committed to pursue justice till the end.”
Meanwhile, Joy Flancia, one of the repatriated Annasban workers said, “While we are proud of what we have achieved in this camp-out, the Arroyo government should be ashamed that we had to resort to nearly starving ourselves to death and sleeping in the streets just to get what we are rightfully due in the first place. It must be remembered that what we asked for was such a small amount, not even a tenth of what the OWWA earns from OFWs for a single day, and we had to fight tooth and nail to get it. This struggle has also opened our eyes to the plight of other OFWs and we would like to help, especially our 5 remaining co-workers left behind in Saudi Arabia.”
The OWWA, which collects $25 from departing OFWs, estimated to be 4,500 each day, is calculated to earn P5 million per day and holds billions of pesos in its coffers.
The OWWA still refused to refund their repatriation airfare, passing the buck to recruitment agencies that the workers have filed cases against. The airfare, costing P15,000 each, was deducted from the workers’ salaries allegedly in collusion with the OWWA, which refused to shoulder the airfare using the agency’s fund.
“Cases similar to that of Annasban workers will continue to arise as long as the OWWA Omnibus Policies are in place. These policies, enacted two years into the Arroyo government, have made OWWA inutile in ensuring the rights and welfare of OFWs and reduced it to a mere milking cow,” said Martinez.
Meanwhile, Annasban workers will lodge a complaint against one OWWA security guard who manhandled Flancia. At around 4:00 pm yesterday, before closing the agency’s doors as a response to the workers’ sit-in, a security guard hit Flancia in the head from behind and stepped on her fingers.
“We will not tolerate such form of violence against women and degrading treatment of OFWs by the agency that is supposed to protect us. After this camp-out, we are convinced now more than ever: we cannot expect a government that treats us as an export commodity to treat us as human beings as well. Our emancipation is in our struggle!” said Flancia.
The women Annasban workers will joining other groups in the huge protest action in Mendiola on March 8 to commemorate International Women’s Day. They shall also be marching with other OFWs on a protest rally on march 17, commemorating the 15th death anniversary of Flor Contemplacion.
Garry Martinez, Chairperson, Migrante International
Ailyn Abdula, Media Officer, Migrante International