Stranded in Saudi Arabia

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IMAGINE this: you are the father and breadwinner not just of one family but a long, extended one that reaches up to nieces and nephews and elders. Because of a stable job in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that role was sustainable for years. You were the tall, leafy tree that gave shade to the weak and jobless in your clan. Your branches extend far and wide, offering your wife and children a financial nest for them to huddle in.

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And now, the sun refuses to shine. Darkness has set in. Your branches have sagged. The nest is about to fall. In Saudi Arabia, we are not talking about one or two trees, but of thousands. We have a forest of grown men, calloused by their experiences working in the desert kingdom, now prone to crying fits and depression. One of these workers committed suicide. At 5:30 a.m. last Feb. 29, a Filipino welder hanged himself inside the Building Materials Trading Co., a few steps away from the company’s accommodations.

Saudi Oger Ltd is a huge construction and maintenance company that is home to thousands of workers. Last year, even before the oil price collapse, the company suffered tremendous losses due to alleged mismanagement and, some say, corruption by some of its foreign executives. As a result, thousands of its foreign workers remain stranded, unable to come home due to unpaid wages and non-collection of their end-of-service benefits, which can be a substantial sum depending on a worker’s length of time in the company.

Based on the records of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), a total of 8,757 overseas Filipino workers have job contracts with Saudi Oger Ltd. In Jeddah, the company has 1,407 Filipinos working in its construction division and another 1,667 OFWs in the maintenance division. The worker who committed suicide was assigned at the Oger’s Al Qadisiya Camp, in Riyadh.

In Jeddah, the company had recently shut down the mess hall where foreign workers went to eat. Our own workers continue to rely on food donations from Filipino community groups and embassy personnel to sustain their physical strength. Roles have become reversed, with some families sending what they have to their loved ones working for Saudi Oger Ltd.

Our workers cannot leave their accommodations because their residence permits known as “Iqama” have expired. Only their employers can renew the expired permits. This would entail enormous costs given the immigration penalties involved per worker. What would happen to these workers if caught outside their accommodations? Jail time.

The expiration of their “Iqama” also complicates other matters, such as inability to call home because retail outlets look for these permits before selling SIM cards or mobile-phone credits. Their lack of mobility due to lack of a valid permit also prevents these Filipinos from physically going to the nearest embassy or consulate to seek help.

Why can’t our workers just leave Saudi Arabia? First, they need to have valid exit clearances to be able to leave the kingdom, which only Saudi Oger’s management can provide. Some of our workers have resigned from their jobs and filed for their exit clearances but the company took no action, hence their dire situation as stranded workers.

According to one of these workers, all employees from skilled workers up to managerial positions have failed to receive their wages for about four months now, or even eight months or more for others.

Crime has risen inside the workers’ accommodations and company premises. Company cars were overturned, housing units burned to the ground, and pickets have continued.

Last March, the Saudi Labor Ministry stopped providing its services, including social security and passport affairs, to Saudi Oger Ltd as part of its punitive measures. The ministry also formed a committee to address the issues raised by the unpaid foreign workers.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Labor and Employment must work in tandem to help our workers from repatriation to reintegration. The fight for their rightful wages and benefits must not be given up in their desire to come home. Only through bilateral negotiations can our stranded OFWs be able to end this painful chapter in their lives. The proposal of ACTS OFW party-list for a crisis management team to be sent to Saudi Arabia is a worthy one. But even before that team can be created, nothing stops the Secretary of Foreign Affairs or the Secretary of Labor from inviting the Saudi Ambassador to discuss this problem.

Saudi Oger Ltd is not the only Saudi company that has not been paying our workers; there are others. Expectations are high that under this new government, these stranded workers would get the help that they deserve.

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18 Comments

  1. Can you published the names of the stranded OFW, so their Families would know who they are.. Maybe their family don’t know nothing about them.

  2. Airene G. Punzalan on

    Thank your for the concern that you shared, I’m also a wife of an OFW in Saudi Oger base in Riyadh, i have’nt received any remittance from my husband since April and I have a daughter who is studying in UST, Manila. By the time you read this my daughter probably belong to out of school youth. My husband is crying literally when we talk because they do not have catering service now and they don’t have money to buy food and water. He’s been working with this company for 20 years and waiting for his separation pay and this happened. Dear Lord Help us. President Duterte…help us.

  3. I’m one of the engineer in Saudi Oger based in Dammam. We have no salary for 8 months and no iqama. No money to buy food and personal needs. We have families who suffers just the same. The waiting seems like forever. We all hope our President Duterte will do all he can to help us get all what we deserved here. I ,myself would like to go home.But, with God’s help also, I need to get the salary and years of service that I’ve worked for. Thanks for letting everybody knows our situation here. God bless all of us!!!

  4. Hello Susan Opple , In your story you asked the question (Why can’t our workers just leave Saudi Arabia? I ask the same question everytime.you’re see the Philippines has the same rules.As an immigrant here if I don’t get an exit clearance iam not leaving and pay fines also ,so no sympathy here and they chose to go there so don’t expect any favors just because they are Filipinos.Saudi has rules, please just respect them.

  5. Julie Anne Diamsay on

    Ma’am , i know a loved one stranded in the said company..please help them…They are stranded, their visa was provided soon expired because their plane ticket was not provided..Now they have to wait for the company to give them their money to and pay the penalty for the un used visa..They are uncertain what is ahead of them there..

  6. Loralie L. Plana on

    Hi Miss Ople. I’m one of the families here in the Phils whose husband is working under Saudi Oger. Mag-9 months na po na walang sahod ang asawa ko. Lubog na lubog na po kami sa utang. Sana po matulungan ng Duterte admin as soon as possible ang mga libo-libong OFW’s po sa Saudi Oger na walang sahod.

    Maraming salamat din po sa pagbabalita ng sitwasyon ng mga kababayan natin sa Saudi.

    • Loralie pls contact the Blas F. Ople Policy Center at 833-5337. Look for Jenny or Vanessa. Ty!

  7. FERDINAND C. RAMA on

    nakaawa ang kalagayan nyan dito ang iba ay nagbebenta ng dugo pantawid gutom lang

  8. Matino na Pinoy on

    The Saudi Arabia Department of Labor is not what everybody think, that it can force civilian companies to pay the wages of their employees, correctly and on time, or else, face the consequence of getting fined. They cannot even legislate laws to protect laborers, especially workers coming from third world countries like the Philippines. However, Saudi Arabia is also one of the better place to work in the Middle East for Third World Country Nationals such as Filipinos because most Saudi employers love Filipinos because of their dedication, they are hard workers and their intelligence. Any representatives from the Philippine Embassy have visited these stranded workers? were they given some type of allowances such as money to buy their food, personal needs, and how about those workers that need maintenance medications? It is about time for the Philippine Embassy to spend some money to help these stranded workers.

  9. As an American I support these precious workers in Gods eyes – these dirty Saudi Muslims were responsible for 911 – we must act together to rescue these workers – no excuses!!!!!

  10. Stranded inthe Desert on

    Ma’am Susan Ople, thank you so much for your efforts in making our dire situation known. I’m one of the thousands of Filipino employees of Saudi Oger. There are many of us here with 8 months of pending salary (6 months for the others). The last salary we received was for Oct 2015 which we received on April of this year.

    • I wish I could do more! Hopefully, mabasa ito ng ating mahal na Pangulo at iba pang kinatawan ng pamahalaan. Bilateral talks talaga ang kailangan. Di na ito kaya ng usual labor-management dialogue kasi nga umiiwas na ang Saudi Oger sa kaniyang obligasyon. TY sa comment mo and sana makauwi na kayo. God bless!

    • I’m very proud of you Ma’am. Salamat at naibalita din ang kalagayang ito ng ating mga kababayan sa Saudi.. Awang awa na po talaga ako sa iba doon. Iba-ibang sakit na ang iniinda dahil sa labis na pag iisip sa sitwasyon nila doon. Paano na yaong mga wala ngang pera para pangkain at panggamot man lang dagdag pa na di na nila nakakausap ang kanilang pamilya na naghihintay dito sa Pinas? Ang iba naman sa kanila wala ng uuwiang asawa at pamilya dahil wala ng maisuporta ang asawang nagdaranas ng matinding hirap sa Saudi.. Mabuhay po kayo! Marami po kaming nagpapasalamat sa inyo..

    • Anu anu po kayang company ang affected thankyou….
      Sasama ko po kayo sa prayers ko

    • Saudi oger, Mohd. Al mojil at Saudi bin laden group ang mga companies na sobrang naapektuhan. Halos mga construction companies dito ganito ang nangyari.

    • Al majhal construction po apektado rin my husband is still there too. Pati po mga ksama nila waiting for salary , benefits and ticket they hve no money to buy foods