THE Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will deploy additional labor attaches and welfare officers to the Middle East to ensure that concerns and problems of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the area are attended to promptly.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd on Wednesday disclosed that he wanted at least two labor attaches for every Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, which has the highest concentration of Filipino migrant workers.
At present, there is only one labor attache for every POLO.
“We need more labor attaches and welfare officers in Saudi Arabia owing to the number of OFWs there. A lot of workers there have problems,” Bello said.
According to the Labor chief, he would send two more labor attaches to the POLOs in Riyadh, Jeddah and Al-Khobar, all in Saudi Arabia, among others.
Bello said he did not want a repeat of the problem in Riyadh and Jeddah where more than 11,000 OFWs were stranded for a long time after they lost their jobs as a result of an economic crisis brought about by a drop in oil prices in the world market.
According to the DOLE chief, he came to know about the problem only through the media, which means that the POLO people have been remiss in their jobs.
The gaffe resulted in the recall of Riyadh-based labor attache Rustico de la Fuente and Jeddah attache Jainal Rasul Jr.
“I ordered them to return to the Philippines not later than October 1 to give them time to finish their unfinished work there,” Bello said.
He added that he had given strict orders to POLO officials to conduct 24-hour monitoring on the status of OFWs in their areas of jurisdiction and to submit a report on a regular basis.
“They should continuously monitor the whereabouts, the welfare and the status of our foreign migrant workers.
They should not act only when there is a problem, that’s unacceptable,” Bello said.
He called on the remaining displaced OFWs in Saudi Arabia to avail themselves of a repatriation program offered by the government.
According to Bello, the goal is to repatriate the first batch of 2,000 OFWs between August 20 and the first week of September.
He said there were OFWs who hesitant to come home because they wanted to ensure that they would be paid their back wages and other monetary claims.
Bello added that they were convincing these workers to execute a special power of attorney (SPA) that would authorize Philippine representatives to follow up on their unpaid claims with their former employers.
He said OFWs would only be allowed to extend their stay in Saudi Arabia if they were looking for another job.
Bello assured the OFWs who will avail themselves of the voluntary repatriation program that the DOLE will provide comprehensive reintegration assistance and services under its Assist WELL Program.
The Assist WELL Program ensures that returning migrant workers who voluntarily sign up for repatriation, or those who are compelled to go home under mandatory repatriation because of emergencies, are successfully reintegrated into the mainstream of Philippine society.