Their salaries have been withheld, their electricity supply cut off, and they are being denied their end of service benefits.
By ANNE EDNALYN DELA CRUZ
MANILA — A bus full of families of stranded OFWs traveled from various provinces of Luzon to Mandaluyong City, enduring the post-Glenda rains and winds, to air their relatives’ grievances to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on July 17.
The families, mostly mothers and wives of workers, complained about the labor violations committed against their relatives working at Mohammed Al-Mojil Group (MMG), a construction company operating in different parts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
During the dialogue with POEA administrator Hans Leo Cacdac and other officials at the ground floor of the POEA office, the kin of OFWs shared that their loved ones suffered maltreatment and poor working and living conditions in their barracks. They added that the wages of most workers have been withheld for at least four months now, leaving them hungry and depressed, and unable to provide for their families in the Philippines.
Migrante International, the group that helped the families of OFWs to coordinate with the POEA, said in a statement that workers sent them a complaint on June 24 stating that thousands of OFWs and other migrant workers employed by MMG are up against various labor abuses and violations.
Migrante also learned that the workers have already filed an official complaint at the Philippine Labor Office last year and have requested for exit visas since the last quarter of 2013. Some workers were repatriated in December 2013 but have not received their back wages and end-of-service benefits (ESB). More than 300 workers remained stranded for 13 months now, most of them undocumented because the MMG did not renew their iqamas after the workers filed the complaint. Iqama is the residence permit issued to foreign workers in KSA.
Migrante International chairman Garry Martinez said the families and the workers hope that the government heed their demands, namely: to immediately repatriate the stranded MMG workers; to compel the MMG to give the workers their ESBs and other benefits; to cancel the licenses of the two recruitment agencies in the Philippines that deployed the OFWs (RRJM International Manpower Services Inc. and Philippine-RN Recruitment Agency, Inc); and to completely ban the company from hiring OFWs.
Among those who went to POEA were Kristilita Galano and Cheryl Lacsa, whose husbands are among the stranded OFWs.
Galano, 30, is the wife of a tinsmith based in Jubail who earns P10,000 to P12,000 ($227 to $272) monthly, without benefits. She said that it has been three months since the MMG arbitrarily withheld her husband’s salary, without giving any explanation.
Galano said her husband was allowed to return home since last year, but he backed out when he learned that he will not be given his end-of-service benefits.
“He was allowed to go home, but decided not to until MMG gives him his ESB. He has been with MMG for 20 years. He started working for them even before we got married. He deserves that ESB, and we need it,” she explained.
Galano also shared that her husband, together with other workers, were not given food and the electricity supply was cut off after they held a protest against the company the other day.
Galano expressed concern for her husband’s safety and welfare. She said she’d rather have him home without the ESB.
“I want him to return home, with or without the ESB. It’s more painful to know what he’s been going through and not be able to do anything to help or protect him,” Galano shared.
Lacsa, 35, on the other hand, is the wife of an instrument technician and a mother of three children.
She shares the same predicament as Galano. Her husband has been unemployed for almost a year now but has not been sent home.
Lacsa said that her husband was suspended for two days after he got into trouble with his immediate supervisor. The suspension was extended to months then to a year.
She said her husband initially received allowance under the contract he signed, but it was discontinued four months ago.
“We have not received any remittance for four months now. My husband has not communicated with us for almost a month now because he has no money to buy prepaid load,” she said.
Lacsa shared that she started accepting laundry work to support her kids, but the money she earns is still not enough for their needs. She said she hopes to have her husband home soon so they can both look for better jobs to support their family.
POEA Administrator lawyer Hans Leo Cacdac assured the families that the government will take immediate action to aid the OFWs.
Cacdac said the POEA would conduct an investigation on the involved recruitment agencies that continue to deploy OFWs to MMG despite the workers’ current situation. He added that they will also look into the cases of labor violations by MMG, particularly its failure to protect the rights of its employees.
He also said he will closely coordinate with the labor attaché in Eastern Saudi Arabia to monitor the situation of the OFWs and relay the concerns of their families.
“We will take action immediately. After this dialogue, I will send an email to (Philippine Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ) Ezzedin Tago and inform him of your concerns. I will also communicate with the OWWA, the MMG, as well as the recruitment agencies involved,” Cacdac said.
Cacdac guaranteed the families and Migrante International that they can expect results by next week.
“I will need your help in the investigation. I call on the families of concerned OFWs to give us a copy of all the documents you have and the information you have. This will speed up the process,” he concluded.