A deployment ban on Filipino workers bound for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) looms amid the failure by Saudi employers to settle the unpaid wages and end of contract payments of some 10,000 OFWs amounting to some P4.5 billion.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd disclosed on Wednesday that claims had been lying idle for more than four years now despite a final and executory ruling by a Saudi court favoring OFWs.
According to Bello, he would bring the matter to the attention of his Saudi counterpart when they meet in the upcoming ministerial meeting in Dubai, United Arab Emirates from October 25 to 27.
"I already informed the President that I will discuss it with my counterpart. I will make it clear to him that if it is not settled, I will consider recommending to the President another deployment ban to Saudi Arabia," added Bello.
"We will not give them any more grace period. We will give them the impression that the settlement is now and not later. It's already been more than four years. Our workers have already suffered a lot," he further said.
Bello lamented that even as the court decision has long been final and executory, not a single cent has been given to the OFW claimants because they were being placed at the bottom of the priority.
He pointed out that under the law, the OFW-claimants should be on the top of the preference of credit because it pertains to unpaid salaries.
These workers, Bello said, have been working for more than two years without salaries.
"That is why I am really determined to tell the President that if they (Saudi) would not give in to our request, I will recommend a deployment in the KSA," Bello stressed.
In May this year, Bello ordered a temporary ban on the deployment of OFWs bound for KSA following reports that the workers were made to pay for all Covid-related expenses upon their arrival in the oil-rich country.
But Bello lifted it two days later following assurance from the Saudi government that the burden of paying the institutionalized quarantine and insurance of OFWs would be borne by the foreign employers and the recruitment agencies.
Bello first acted on the plight of the more than 10,000 OFWs when he assumed office as secretary of labor in 2016.
The DoLE chief came to know about the problem only through the media, which resulted in the immediate recall of Riyad-based labor attache Rustico dela Fuente and Jeddah attache Jainal Rasul Jr.
The workers were penniless and resorted to begging and scavenging after they lost their jobs as a result of the economic crisis that hit the Middle East brought about by the drop in oil price in the world market.
According to Bello, the government spent billions of pesos for the workers' repatriation. But some OFWs opted to remain after they found other jobs.