“We are enduring the fact that we have to be away from our families to provide for their needs. But now, we have lost everything.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Overseas Filipino workers working in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia are asking the Philippine government to look into their immediate repatriation as their company refused to give them their due salary and food allowance for more than a year now.
In a letter emailed to the office of Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, the 33 Filipino workers in the campsite of Saad Trading Contracting and Financial Services explained that they have yet to receive their salary since November 2015.
“Despite such conditions, we continue to work, believing in their promises that they would give us our salary,” read the OFWs’ letter, emailed to the Labor department last Aug. 9.
After a strike staged by other migrant workers, Saad Trading also stopped providing them their food allowance, making their living conditions even more difficult.
The Saad Trading Contracting and Financial Services, owned by a Kuwait-born magnate in Saudi Arabia Maan Al Sanea, is currently involved in what is referred to as the “Middle East’s longest running business dispute,” as it has gone on for the last seven years. Reports said Al Sanea was accused of fraud by his in-laws who said he siphoned funds from their company to his.
Pending resolution of the business dispute, the conditions of migrant workers on the ground are worsening. Most of the workers have been working for the company for four to 22 years.
“We are enduring the fact that we have to be away from our families to provide for their needs. But now, we have lost everything. The children of most of our colleagues have stopped going to school,” read a separate open letter of the Saad Filipino workers to Philippine authorities.
The 33 Filipinos who signed the open letter want no less than their delayed salaries and benefits when they go back to their families in the Philippines.
No food, no iqama
Without food subsidy, the OFWs said they would consider themselves lucky if they could eat at least twice a day.
Generoso Garcia, one of the Saad workers, told Bulatlat in an interview via Facebook that they received two batches of grocery packs from the Philippine post – on June 10 and Aug. 16 – but that was it.
Right now, OFWs who have nothing to eat depend on the good will of other Filipinos and of migrant workers of other nationalities who are getting support from their respective governments, such as those from Pakistan and India, said Garcia.
He added they are also receiving food subsistence from Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labor.
To further worsen their burden, Filipino workers in Saad could not leave their campsites and worksites as their employers have not renewed their iqama or residence permit since 2015. The said permit is needed to reside and leave Saudi Arabia, else they may be arrested by the police.
The Filipino migrant workers in Saad have already informed their respective agencies in the country, but no assistance came. The workers said the same happened when they reported their plight to the Philippine labor officials in Saudi Arabia.
“They also extended help. They do not have sufficient personnel here and could not afford to focus and provide their full assistance to what we are struggling for,” the open letter read.
More in other campsites
Apart from those in the Al Khobar worksite, other OFWs are also employed by the Saad in other sites located in Aziziyah camp, in the head office, and in hospitals and villas owned by the company.
Abu Victoria, chairperson of Migrante – Saudi Arabia Eastern Region, said that they do not personally know the Filipino migrant workers in other Saad companies, but they know that they, too, suffer from delayed salaries and benefits, if not none at all.
He said the number of affected Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia would not have increased drastically if only the Philippine post there acted immediately to their reports. Of the 200 case referrals, Victoria said the POLO-OWWA only looked into seven cases. However, no legal support has been given yet.
“We have repeatedly submitted names of affected Filipinos to POLO. But every time we would follow up, they would ask for another list. The cases we have referred to them have not progressed at all,” Garcia said, adding that every time they would visit the Philippine post’s office, “it seems that we would be starting all over again.”
The plight of Filipino workers in distress in Saudi Arabia has long been downplayed under the previous administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III. OFWs in Saad are hoping they would not experience the same from the present administration.
Apart from the email, their letters were also handed to Bello in a dialogue last Aug. 11 by relatives of Filipino workers in Saad.