The Slaves of Madagascar: Abused OFWs Repatriated for Fighting for Their Rights

Kentz, a major contractor that operates one of the world’s biggest nickel-cobalt refineries in the world, is accused of mistreating its Filipino workers, one of whom the company allegedly kidnapped to prevent the other abused workers from protesting.


MANILA — Among the small community of overseas Filipinos workers who were recently repatriated to the Philippines runs a joke that is at once funny but bitterly ironic: Madagascar is known for its beautiful animals and how well these are supposedly treated. These animals are more fortunate than the Filipinos who worked there, in one of the largest nickel-cobalt mining refineries in the world.

“Madagascar was supposed to be a place where the most beautiful animals can be found,” said Eleutario Cusi, one of the dozens of OFWs who were recently repatriated after suffering abuse and mistreatment from their employer. But, he added, this was also a place where “the proud and hardworking OFWs are treated almost like animals.”

Cusi’s co-worker, Albert Costes, 46, was one of those who suffered such abuse and is now trying his best to correct the injustice. Having been allegedly duped and mistreated, Costes and the others are pursuing their case against their former employer and their cohorts before the Philippine Overseas Employment Adminsitration (POEA), seeking to blacklist them, to prevent them from abusing workers like them in the future.

On January 11, Costes and the others filed cases before the POEA to blacklist Kentz Engineers and Constructors and the local employment agencies that hired the workers: EastWest Placement Center, Omanfil International Manpower Development Corp., and Krisalis Construction Company. The workers accused these companies of unfair labor practice and for removing them from work and repatriating them to the Philippines.

Kentz, which operates in nearly 30 countries for nearly a century, employs more than 2,500 Filipino workers, according to reports.

Costes had arrived in the Philippines from Madagascar the day before. He said he decided to join the OFWs’ struggle against their former employers because an injustice had been committed them.

No Choice

Being an OFW is not new to Costes; he has been one since 1999, when his children were still small and when his wife was still alive. Costes was forced to work abroad, such as in Dammam, in Riyadh and in Qatar, out of the need to survive and to secure a brighter future for his family.

OFWs from Madagascar protest at the POEA on Jan. 11. Costes is at left, with the bonnet (Photo by Janess Ann Ellao /

“I had no choice. Although I was employed, I was only earning the minimum wage, which was roughly P380 a day,” Costes told in an interview. “There was no way that it could meet my growing family’s needs.”

When his wife died from a vehicular accident in 2008, Costes worked even harder for their three children. The following year, he landed a job in Madagascar as a piping foreman at the Ambatovy Project, nickel-cobalt mining refinery that is one of the largest in the world. At that time, the company that hired Costes, SNC Lavalin, was still working with Keangnam, a South Korean contractor that directly managed the operations at the mining site.

Costes said Keangnam treated workers like him well. Though their work requires much physical strength, Costes felt that it was all worth it as he and the others were compensated properly, including overtime pays. They worked for eight hours a day at a rate of $4 an hour. Their salary was directly deposited to their bank accounts in the Philippines. Food and lodging was also provided them. Workers took their offs on Saturdays and Sundays and during holidays, as prescribed by Madagascar laws.

“All was well,” Costes said. In August 2010, when he returned to the Philippines for a short vacation, Costes was already hearing gossip that Kentz would come in to replace Keangnam. Costes was actually happy  about the news, thinking that since Kentz is a bigger company, the workers would continue enjoying their rights and privileges, probably even receive better benefits.

Costes thought wrong.

Working Conditions, Delayed Salaries

Costes was supposed to return to Madagascar in September but his former recruitment agency told him that they could not deploy him any longer due to the change in management. Undaunted, he approached another agency, EastWest Placement Center, to help him return to Madagascar. He left the Philippines on October 29, 2010.

Costes was surprised to learn, upon arriving at tge project site, that they would now work 10 hours a day. Kentz did not compensate them overtime pay for the two extra hours even though Madagascar labor laws prescribe only eight hours of work a day. The workers are also required to work for six days a week and would no longer enjoy holiday breaks.

“It was very tiring. Our work demanded so much physical strength from us. If machines could no longer fit into the small tunnels of the mining site, we had to go and do things manually,” Costes said in Filipino. “It is hot (inside the tunnels). Every inch of our body ached after every work.”

While they were given free accommodation, Costes said that since Kentz handled the operations, their quarters, which he called barracks, became overcrowded and was so small there was hardly enough space between beds for people to pass through.  There were also times, he said, that workers could no longer take their meals because so many workers lined up to get their food and there was very limited time for their lunch breaks.

According to Costes, Kentz also assigned tasks to workers even if these were not their within their capabilities and qualifications. Carlito Velasco, a welder, became a structural crew. Roland Villena, an electrician, became a material controller.  Rolando Ancog, a steel erector, became a manlift operator.

The company also did not give due medical attention to an ailing colleague, Rey de Lima, who had suffered a mild paralysis while working for Kentz. He was not brought to the hospital where doctors could check  whether or not his medical condition had arisen due to his work, Costes said.

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14 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Isa din ako sa kanila doon,pero tinapos ko ang kontrata ko.ang tunay na dahilan ng uwian ay dahil sa malaria.ang mali lang ng mga kasama ay over react,dapat bago sila mag decide na umuwi ay kung sila’y sure na sila ay clear sa malaria.what I mean is,pa iksamin muna para kung sakali di na madala sa pamilya ang problima.mahal ang pagpagamot ng malaria sa pinas. Pag ikaw ay nag aabroad,kailangan matibay at una sa lahat mapagmatyag sa sitwasyon. “MASARAP SA MADAGASCAR”

  2. masakit isipin sa mga oras ng kagipitan mismo ang kapwa pinoy ang lumalaglag sa kapwas pinoy.di ko rin sila masisi ika nga survival of the fittest!!! I hope all people will understand when we die no one is above us only GOD. If i would state here all my comments regarding KENTZ and EASTWEST company I can write a book with evidence :)… Ako nga pala ang anak ng namatay sa madagascar,africa. It was so HARD for us to accept what happen to our father but we need to move on and continue life. I will asking po kunting tulong sa mga taong involve dito. Especially those workers na umabot beetween january and february. I need to talk to you po regarding this case. I would suggest to limit your words online it maybe used against you. PLease email me at…. -sarah-

  3. Kabayan,wagnaman kayong magsalita na masasakit.eto lang masasabi ko nag sumama naman ang mga tao sa strike dito na 3 beses kaya lang n0ng huli na wla na sa tama ang pinaglalaban nyo.tama bay0n pgpumasok ka haharangan ka,at kng hndi ka sasama sa strike kng mgtrbho ka ay uulanin ka ng bato.pareho tayong may pamily at ibat iba ang katayoan natin mer0ng mayaman at mahirap.

  4. naku! kaloka nga dyan sa madagascar! sobra walang paki alam mga yan! infact di nmn mamatay ang worker nila pag may monthly health check up sila. ETO PA PAALALA SA MGA TAGA KENTZ! ISANG NAGNGANGALAN NG NINA ANG NAKIKIPAG RELASYON SA MGA OFW NA MAY DALANG STD TAKE NOTE KAIBIGAN KO BIKTIMA. MANAGEMENT OF KENTZ CHECK YOUR EMPLOYEES ESPECIALLY NINA.BWAHAHAHAHA

  5. jz asking lang po…? meron po akong trusted source na meron dw malaria case sa loob ng ambatovy plant. isa patay. wla kasi daw libreng vaccine or antimalarial tablet doon. gaano ba ka-risky mg-work dyan sa ambotovy knowing wlang vacine…? kakatakot po…

  6. it is so sad for me to know that one of the ofw working in kentz madagascar are now suffering from malaria & one of them died with these case.kentz management are you not aware with this matter……please send them home if you are really worried with thier situation if you really have a good heart.

  7. just asking …how about this company europacific engineering, do they treat there employees well?

  8. its so sad to think that this is happening everywhere.i am an OFW as a housekeeper and i am also experiencing such exploitation.unpaid overtime,being disrespected.althought it's not as worst as what happened to these group.i feel so sad to all my fellow OFW's.

  9. the stories are not fabricated since there are videos taken during the kidnapped part of the story… its not only a couple of times that their salaries are delayed… some workers did not received their slaries in 3 months… maybe this patricia is an employee of that said company… think this…

  10. As simple as these…there will be no dispute if there is no suffering…!!! Totoo may mga oras na di na nakakakain ng maayos ang mga manggagawa…dahil di na kayang suplayan sa pagnaubusan biscuit na lamang at pansit ang kakainin mo.Maswerte pa ang isda sa lata ng sardinas kesa sa kanila na 8 tao sa isang kwarto…bakit ko alam? dahil isa rin ako sa nagtrabaho sa Ambatovy Project….Di ako Manggagawa ng Kentz…at di East West, Omanfil o anu mang agency me koneksyon sa Kentz…..

  11. its not real that guys is talking. “These animals are more fortunate than the Filipinos who worked there.”
    how could be your animals been feed 3 times a day meal in which you can choice of a pinoy dish or a chinese dish….maybe that guy had been a bad employee to his previous employer thats why he is been hold to come back and choice kentz as another employer that can deploy him. I just cant accept that animals is more fortunate than us here…..i can still send a decent money to my family in phils. if you check this guys, they are the one that only one that doing nothing during working hours bwhahahahaha…am I right?

    1. Ang hinaing na ito ay para sa pagbabago,trato at pananaw sa aming mga OFW ang BAGONG BAYANI NG BAYAN kuno? Hindi lang nman yang pagkain ang nagiging problema if you open your eyes widely..everybody has a choice to choose but not to be treated as animal,no choice KENTZ ang naging employer but not to be treated as animal..maybe you are ANIMAL kasi you like the food they are serving & you have a choice pa if pinoy dish or chinese dish? You have receiving you salary completly but how about those our fellow filipino who has not been receiving there salary for almost 1,2 & 3 months?..kaya naman pala good sayo ang KENTZ kasi sumasahod ka ng di lumalabas din na makasarili ka! You dont have sympathy to our fellow filipino…ano ba yung magkaisa tayo at tulungan ang kapwa natin pilipino at maresolve ang problema..& thats it! tapos ang problema lahat masaya..diba Mr. Marvin Magno?

  12. Yung mga ayaw sumali sa strike, ang bansag nila hindi Filipino, balimbing, sipsip at kung ano ano pa. At ang ayaw sumali sa strike ay tinatakot nila. Binabato ang bubong kung saan nagtatrabaho. Ang ayaw sumama e tiyak daw na tatama ng bato. Sinusuyud nila lahat ng Filipino para sumama sa strike nila. Ang mga gustong magtrabaho, hinaharang nila. Ngayon, gawain ba ng isang maka demokratikong Filipino ang takutin at pilitin ang kapwa niya Filipino? Kase daw nasa democratic country sila ng Madagascar, kaya pwede mag strike. At ang ayaw sumama ay tiyak na masasaktan. Pwede ba yun? Ganun ba yun?

    1. kung ikaw ay Filipino mayroon kang awa sa mga kapwa mo Filipino..ang hirap kasi sa inyo wala kayong pakialam! nais nyo lang na ang PAMILYA nyo ang may matanggap na sahod padala nyo at may pambili na makakain,pano naman ang KAPWA nyo FILIPINO na nagtatrabaho at 3buwan n di sumasahod at galit na galit n sa inyo na WALANG PAKIALAM sa amin na tulungan na suportahan at iparating sa KENTZ management ang aming hinaing?ang nakakalungkot dito ay TAYO PANG MGA FILIPINO ay makasarili at walang pagkakaisa,Democratic tayo kaya malaya kang magpasya na nais KANG CONCERN SA AMIN! dahil yan ang PASYA MO.

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