We lauded the personal visit of DOLE Secretary Bebot Bello, POEA Administrator Hans-Leo Cacdac and other government officials in Saudi Arabia to look deep into the matter of the reported stranded OFWs of Saudi Oger Co. Ltd., and Saudi Binladdin Group; and so with the alleged negligence of the Philippine mission in Saudi Arabia to act on the issue at hand.
What is absolutely true is that the problem of unpaid salaries or delayed salaries, and keeping of OFWs passport by their employers and many other complaints have been there for many years now.
The POEA should give more teeth on the Rules and Regulations for the accreditation of Saudi employers to hire OFWs. Likewise, the recruitment agencies should be more cautious in selecting Saudi employers and crafting recruitment agreement with more favorable conditions in the interest and welfare of aspiring OFWs bound for Saudi Arabia.
I believed that our Philippine Overseas Labor Office, the OWWA and Philippine mission in general are doing their job of negotiating those companies involved in the said disputes, to come up with a comprehensive solution to the workers’ grievances.
Saudi Oger Co., Ltd., and the Saudi Binladdin Group are big companies in Saudi Arabia and was established many decades ago. These companies employed thousands of Filipino workers way back in the 70s, 80s and 90s during the blooming period of construction and infrastructure projects in Saudi Arabia. There were many OFWs returned home who had benefited working in these companies. Though, like the huge companies in other parts of the world, Saudi Arabia today faces economic challenges. We cannot blame those companies to have their internal situation be remedied first to be able to deal with their respective worsening financial problem.
On the other side, some of our stranded OFWs refused to go home exploring the possibility of reaching a settlement agreement with their employers and collect those unpaid salaries, end of service benefits, among others. For them, waiting is the best option rather than go home without nothing to bring to their families back home.
In Saudi Arabia, expatriate workers can only leave their employers once the exit clearance is issued. In the present situation, the Philippine government should request through a special arrangement with Saudi Immigration and Deportation to issue a block exit visa for all those stranded OFWs who wants to be repatriated. For those who refused, the government should convince them to go home and all those repatriated should be provided with livelihood opportunities.
The Philippine Labor Office should continue and exert more effort in the negotiating table with their employers until such time that a settlement is reached. The monetary settlement of their delayed salaries and End of Service Benefits will be sent to the OFWs once available.
Many foreign diplomats I met when I was working in a Saudi government institution says “the most hardship posting they have been is in Saudi Arabia.” How much more to a Labor Attache who takes care of thousands if not almost a million of their nationals? To be fair, those Philippine Labor Attaches’ in Jeddah and Riyadh are experienced and seasoned labor attaches’, they have been posted back to Saudi Arabia several times after the end of their tour of duties in other countries. They solved many OFWs grievances and complaints unrecognized but it is in the Filipino nature that we forget the good deeds for one honest fault.
For me, to address the problem of our stranded OFWs is not by recalling our Labor Attaches who knows the real situation at hand, but to order them to prioritize our distressed OFWs grievances and come up with a concrete solution at the earliest possible time. We couldn’t solve the entire problem by replacing our current labor attache’s to a new ones who are not familiar with the situation. Perhaps, we will give them the opportunity to do something or to prove their worth as our representative overseeing the plight of our OFWs – at least for now, prior recalling them back home.
Nonetheless, I should say that the Philippine mission in Saudi Arabia should be reprimanded for failing to provide to our stranded OFWs with monetary aid, food and shelter on time of their needs. – BongA