A party-list lawmaker has revealed that thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Saudi Arabia are living “desperately” in temporary shelters because the companies that hired them are facing financial difficulties brought about by falling oil prices on the world market.
“Our countrymen are in a very serious situation in Saudi Arabia and they long to come home,” said OFW party-list Rep. Johnny Revilla during his recent guesting at the National Press Club’s Meet the Press Forum.
According to Revilla, the financial difficulties being experienced by oil-dependent industries in Saudi Arabia have led to reduction, if not stoppage, in operations of huge firms such as the Mohammad Al-Mojil Group (MMG) in Dammam, one of the biggest employers of Filipinos in the kingdom.
“For almost a year now, the company is in dire straits and as a consequence, hundreds of OFWs working for MMG have not been paid and their benefits withheld, including vacation leave benefits,” he said.
Worse, the lawmaker added, these Filipino workers could not be repatriated because their Iqamas, or their work permits, have not been renewed.
For lack of a better opportunity back home, Revilla said the OFWs opted to “fight for their rights” and await the payment of their salaries and benefits.
“Majority of the OFWs remained steadfast in their position. They have since stayed in camps hoping for better days to come,” according to the legislator, who spent his own money to go to Dammam to personally see the conditions of the OFWs.
“I told them I am no superman that I can bring them back home at once. I assured them that I am doing something, meeting company officials and Philippine Embassy officials so we can come up with a compromise,” Revilla said.
He added that some 300 workers have agreed to come home, but the others–about 1,400 of them–have chosen to remain in the camps, hoping that they could get better opportunities.
“This is only in Dammam. In Al-Khobar, which I am going to visit soon, there are hundreds more of OFWs who are suffering the same fate.
“They are becoming desperate and are still left in the dark,” said Revilla, who commended Labor officers from the Philippine Embassy there and the Saudi Ministry of Labor for taking the cudgels for the OFWs.
“The Philippine Embassy was able to convince more than 300 OFWs to opt for repatriation with a promissory note from MMG that their end service benefits would be paid in tranches,” according to the lawmaker.
Revilla said he was able to work for concessions for the OFWs: Payment of their October salaries; payment of an initial 20 percent of their end-of-service benefits; reactivation of the workers’ Iqama by MMG; and payment of repatriation costs by the firm, among others.
Meanwhile, Revilla appealed to President Benigno Aquino 3rd to look more closely into the predicament of OFWs not only in Saudi Arabia but also in other countries.
For one, he asked the President to request the new king of Saudi Arabia to pardon and release Filipinos who are in jail for various offenses.
“It is common practice in the kingdom that prisoners are pardoned whenever a new king is crowned. President Aquino, if he so wishes, can ask the king that favor, which is likely to be granted,” the lawmaker explained.
Revilla also proposed the hiring of local lawyers in every posting so that labor cases involving OFWs can be resolved immediately.
It is important, he said, that the Philippine government should hire a Saudi Arabian lawyer on retainer basis because Saudi Arabians are more familiar with their own laws.
“I hope the Department of Labor would consider including in its budget the provision for a labor lawyer,” Revilla said.