“The relief assistance is timely in light of thousands of OFWs in various construction companies who are not receiving their salaries and benefits. And OWWA’s usual attitude of turning a deaf ear to the plight of OFWs hopefully will finally end.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – An alliance of overseas Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia welcomed the announcement by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) that it will release a P500-million ($10.6 million) relief fund to assist crisis-affected OFWs who are left without jobs and stranded in their work sites.
In a statement, Migrante-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia said the much needed aid is but one of the many concerns raised by stranded OFWs and their families.
Marlon Gatdula, Migrante KSA regional chairperson, said the relief assistance is “timely in light of thousands of OFWs in various construction companies who are not receiving their salaries and benefits. And OWWA’s usual attitude of turning a deaf ear to the plight of OFWs hopefully will finally end.”
OWWA said affected OFWs who remain stranded in their worksites will be given P20,000 ($425). Their families in the Philippines are set to receive P6,000 ($127). The fund will come from the OWWA’s Relief Assistance Program.
Gatdula attributed the “breath of fresh air” to newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte and the Filipino migrant workers persistence to collectively fight for their rights and welfare.
Give assistance to OFWs in other companies
Migrante-KSA asked the Philippine government to reconsider and expand its scope of assistance. Only OFWs employed in the following nine companies would receive assistance:
1. Saudi bin Laden Grup of Companies
2. Saudi Oger Ltd.
3. Mohammed al-Mojil Group
4. Mohammad Hameed Al-Bargash & Bros. Trading & Construction Co.
5. Alumco LLC
6. Rajeh H. Al Merri Contracting & Trading Co.
7. Fawzi Salah Al Nairani Contracting Co.
8. Arabtec Construction LLC
9. Real Estate Development & Investment Co.
Gatdula said the aid should also be extended to OFWs whose employers are not on the list but are also affected by the Saudi crisis. He said many crisis-affected Filipino workers are employed in small man-power agencies that are contracted by the companies listed above.
“It will be unfair and divisive to the OFWs and their families. Because of their stranded status, majority of them are undocumented (no iqamas) and therefore have been rendered stripped off their active OWWA memberships. If active OWWA membership is a pre-requisite, close to none will be able to avail,” Gatdula said.
Ph gov’t should visit more worksites in Saudi
Gatdula also asked the Philippine government to visit more jobsites to look into the conditions of OFWs, and gather required documentation that would enable them to avail of the OWWA relief assistance.
Last July 20, Migrante International submitted a report on the situation of OFWs to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello right before he headed to Saudi Arabia. The report listed down the following demands:
1. Negotiate with employers for the payment of unpaid wages and benefits, and issuance of exit visas of stranded OFWs.
2. Emergency mass repatriation of stranded OFWs. Government should shoulder immigration penalties and other costs related to repatriation.
3. Provide legal assistance and other support for distressed OFWs who filed labor cases, and facilitate the provision of subsistence allowances and mandatory insurance benefits through OFWs’ recruitment agencies.
4. Ban the deployment of OFWs to bankrupt and crisis-ridden companies.
5. Emergency financial assistance to all distressed OFWs and their families.
6. Speedy resolution of cases of repatriated OFWs lodged at the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) and NLRC (National Labor Relations Commission).
7. Comprehensive reintegration program for returned and returning OFWs.
Bello, after his visit, said there are 11,000 OFWs needing due government assistance. He also sent home two labor attaches deployed in Riyadh and Saudi Arabia for their alleged inaction to the plight of OFWs there.
Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson, said the Duterte administration is a far cry from that of President Aquino, whose officials downplayed the effects of the oil crisis in Saudi Arabia.