Bello: Saudi employers to cover OFW COVID-19 swab test, quarantine

Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 29 2021 09:18 AM | Updated as of May 29 2021 10:49 AM

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MANILA (UPDATE) - Employers of Filipino workers bound for Saudi Arabia will now cover costs of their COVID-19 testing and quarantine upon arrival there, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Saturday— a development seen to pave the way for Manila's lifting of the halt on migrant deployment to the Kingdom.

Bello said he received the message from Saudi Ambassador to Manila Abdullah Al-Bussairy on the guarantee from the Saudi government. A letter conveying this is expected to reach Bello's office later Saturday. 

This followed shortly after Bello told TeleRadyo Saturday morning that the Philippines only needs a note verbale stating this guarantee for it to lift the OFW deployment suspension. 

“Kaya ko sinunspend temporarily 'yung deployment ng ating kababayan sa Saudi ay dahil doon sa institutional quarantine nila na kung saan pagdating ng ating mga OFW doon kailangang i-swab sila at i-quarantine for 10 days. Ok sa akin 'yun if that is their protocol there but malabo kung sino ang magbabayad niyan," Bello said on Teleradyo. 

(The reason why I temporarily suspended OFW deployment to Saudi is because of their institutional quarantine where workers upon arrival should be swabbed and quarantined for 10 days. That’s fine with me if that is their protocol there but it's not clear who will pay for it.)

He said this process could cost Filipino workers $3,500, "equivalent to almost one year ng sweldo ng ating mga OFW (of wages of our OFWs),” Bello said. 

On Friday, hundreds of OFWs bound for Saudi Arabia were stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport after they were barred from leaving following the deployment suspension.

Bello earlier spoke with the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to ask him to include in their protocol the order for employers to pay for the OFWs' testing and quarantine.
“I talked to the ambassador and I told him a note verbale from you will suffice and he said he will issue the note verbale. The moment that note verbale reaches the DFA, DFA will give me a copy, we will lift the order of suspension,” Bello said in an interview before the latest development. 

He said a written order would ensure that employers commit to pay the quarantine of their workers and would not charge the Filipino workers for it later. 
“We cannot put the OFWs at the mercy of their employers. Kung talagang sasagutin nila why does this government not issue a written order telling the employer babayaran nila 'yung quarantine expense ng ating OFW?” he said.

(If they will really cover the costs, why does this government not issue a written order telling the employer to pay for quarantine expense of our OFWs?)

Bello said government provided assistance in terms of accommodations and food to OFWs who were stranded at the airport because of the order suspending deployment to Saudi Arabia.