MANILA — The Department of Migrant Workers on Friday confirmed a Washington Post report that hundreds of Filipino workers are stranded at a remote US military base on an island in the Indian Ocean due to a dispute with their employer.
DMW Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople said around 800 Filipino workers were on the Diego Garcia island over issues with their employer, major American contractor Kellogg Brown & Root.
“Stranded sila in a sense na hindi sila makapagbakasyon. Natatakot sila, 'pag nagbakasyon sila ng Pilipinas, either hindi na sila makabalik dahil hindi papayagan ng POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) dito or baka tanggalin sila trabaho,” she told TeleRadyo.
(They are stranded in the sense that they can't go on vacation. They are afraid that if they go home to the Philippines, the POEA won't let them come back, or they'll be fired from work.)
“Kasi may threat yung KBR…na isang defense contractor ng US Navy, bianabantaan yung ibang manggagawa natin doon na mag-resign na lang kayo kung magbabakasyon kayo.”
(KBR, a contractor of the US Navy, has threatened them by saying that they should just resign if they want to go on vacation.)
The official said they have reached out to KBR to assert that vacation leaves are part of workers’ basic rights.
Ople also noted that this is not the first time KBR has been flagged for alleged labor violations against Filipino workers.
“Yung KBR, lumalabag sa US federal law na dapat $7 an hour yung suweldo ng minimum wage. Ang pasuweldo nila ay $5.25 yata if I’m not mistaken. So yung POEA called their attention… This happened I think in 2020 pa,” she said.
(KBR broke US federal law by paying their workers $5.25 an hour--it should have been $7. POEA called their attention...I think this happened way back in 2020.)
According to the Washington Post report, the Houston-based contractor denied underpaying its employees. KBR added that Filipino workers are able to take military flights to Japan and Bahrain, with the cost of their onward travel to the Philippines covered by the company.
But Ople said Manila would reach out to US government officials if KBR fails to respond to the Filipinos’ complaints.
“Ang balak namin, kakausapin ulit namin yung KBR, and kung wala pang mangyari, susulat na yung Department of Migrant Workers sa Department of Labor ng US government para mag-intervene na sila dito sa problem na ito, at susulat din kami sa US Navy kung saan may kakontrata itong KBR,” she said.
(Our plan is to talk to KBR again, and if nothing still happens, we will write the US labor department so they can intervene, and we will also write the US Navy.)
— With reports from Jeff Canoy, ABS-CBN News.