By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Eighty nine overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), along with other Asian workers staged a work stoppage to protest the unfair labor practices of their employer, Al Swayeh Company in Saudi Arabia. The OFWs sought the help of the Philippine embassy in Saudi Arabia in repatriating them to the Philippines but to no avail.
In a statement sent to Bulatlat.com, Eric Jocson, chairman of the Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silangan (Brotherhood in the Middle East), said the 89 OFWs were maltreated by their employer. The OFWs also sent an urgent appeal to Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silangan because they are now running out of food and money. The 89 OFWs are staying in a camp in Saudi Arabia.
Jocson visited the OFWs in their camp where they are staying with other nationalities also working for Al Swayeh. Jocson said the OFWs are very hungry and some are getting sick.
“Presently, they don’t have a gas tank so they gather wood from the desert to build a fire. They don’t have enough food and they are just depending on help from fellow Filipinos. Some of the OFWs have cough, colds and fever, some also have hypertension,” Jocson said in an interview through e-mail. During his visit, Jocson gave them food and a small amount of money.
The distressed OFWs have already sent their complaint to the Philippine embassy in Riyadh last Oct. 15, 2011 but, according to Jocson, the Philippine embassy has yet to act on their demands.
In their letter sent to the Philippine embassy in Saudi, the OFWs complained that the company didn’t release their salary for more than five months now since May last year; some of the employees had pending salaries way back from the year 2010; majority of the employees have expired Iqamas or residence permits; their medical insurance have not been renewed due to their expired Iqamas, thus, the OFWs are shouldering their own expenses for their medication; no action has been taken by the company in response to the filing of applications for vacation/exit by OFWs for almost a year now.
“We’re suffering much, especially financially and we’re mentally affected due to our present condition,” the letter read.
The OFWs are also being harassed by the company, said Jocson. Last January 15, company officials brought police with them to scare off the workers. The police fired their guns in the air so that the workers would leave the camp.
“We immediately reported this to Ambassador Ezzedin H. Tago and he told us that the embassy will help us go back home as soon as possible. But up to now, nothing has happened,” the OFWs said.
John Leonard Monterona, Migrante Middle East coordinator lambasted the Philippine embassy and labor officials in Riyadh who failed to attend and provide assistance to the OFWs despite the latter’s repeated pleading since October last year.
“Philippine embassy and labor officials are like lame ducks in terms of providing assistance to distressed Filipino workers who are victims of labor malpractices,” Monterona lamented.
Monterona is calling on President Aquino and officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to immediately instruct Philippine embassy and labor officials in Riyadh to attend to, without delay, the needs of the 89 distressed OFWs.
“President Aquino should attend to the problems faced by OFW. If President Aquino is paying attention to the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona, he should also do the same to our fellow OFWs here. Our remittances contribute to the Philippine economy so we hope that he should also give importance to the OFWs” said Jocson.