MANILA (UPDATE) - The Department of Labor and Employment on Saturday lifted the temporary suspension of the deployment of overseas Filipino workers to Saudi Arabia over COVID-19 quarantine and testing costs, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said.
In a statement, Bello said his office has received official communication from the Saudi government that it has mandated foreign employers to shoulder the travel protocol costs of OFWs upon arrival.
"After receipt of the official communication from the Saudi government this morning which ensures us that the foreign employers and agencies will shoulder the costs of institutional quarantine and other COVID protocols upon arrival in the KSA, the temporary suspension of deployment to the Kingdom is hereby lifted,” Bello said.
He also thanked the Saudi government "for acting with dispatch and giving us reassurance" on the matter.
Bello also advised the POEA to implement the directive “immediately” and clear Filipino workers who are bound for the kingdom. He apologized to OFWs who were confused and irritated with the sudden order to suspend deployment to the kingdom on Friday.
"I understand that the suspension order drew confusion and irritation among our affected departing OFWs. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience and momentary anguish that it may have caused our dear OFWs. It was to the best interest of our OFWs that such decision had to be made," Bello said.
The deployment suspension, implemented on Friday, left around 400 Saudi-bound OFWs stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration administrator Bernard Olalia said.
Bello earlier Saturday said he just received a message from Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to Manila Abdullah Al-Bussairy that his government has already communicated the order to the employers on covering COVID-19 protocol costs for OFWs.
Olalia said the Saudi advisory to employers says that OFWs should be excluded from an order asking foreign travelers to shoulder costs of quarantine and COVID-19 tests plus their travel insurance.
Bello earlier said the process could cost OFWs around $3,500, equivalent to about a year's salary for them.
Video courtesy of PTV
"Ipinaliwanag na po nila na advisory na hindi dapat kasama ang OFW kung saan may mga travel advisory na may pananagutan ang travelers na mag-7 day quarantine at magbayad ng COVID-19 test at insurance coverage," he added.
(They explained in an advisory that OFWs should be excluded from a travel advisory subjecting foreign travelers to a 7-day quarantine and shoulder COVID-19 tests and insurance coverage.)
Meanwhile, the Philippine Airlines said it would accept OFWs on its flights to Saudi Arabia effective Saturday following the resumption of deployment, the airline company said in an advisory.
They advised OFWs unable to board their flights to Dammam and Riyadh due to the brief suspension to rebook their flights.
They will also waive rebooking service fees, the airline said.
“OFWs who were unable to board their flights to Dammam and Riyadh due to the earlier prohibition may rebook their flights with rebooking service fees waived. Affected passengers may call PAL Reservations at +63 8855 8888 for flight rebooking,” it said.
— report from Angela Coloma, ABS-CBN News