MANILA—The Philippine government is considering a suspension of deployment of overseas Filipino workers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over incidents of "maltreatment," the Department of Labor and Employment said Thursday.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the proposal came after a retired Saudi general was accused of maltreating Filipino domestic helpers.
Bello said he is waiting for the recommendation of Philippine Overseas Employment Administration administrator Bernard Olalia whether to impose the deployment ban.
"Bilang safeguard sa ating mga OFWs, pinag-aaralan ko na huwag muna tayong mag-deploy hangga't hindi sila nagpapakita, lalong-lalo na ang pamahalaan ng KSA, na handa nilang proteksiyonan ang mga OFWs," he told Teleradyo.
(As safeguard to our OFWs, I'm considering suspending the deployment until they show, especially the government of KSA, they are prepared to protect our OFWs.)
According to the report received by DOLE, there were initially 16 OFWs employed by the retired military man who was identified as Ayed Thawah Al Jealid. The workers have been complaining of physical abuse and unpaid salaries since 2019.
In May, the POLO was informed that the employer issued an exit visa for Annaliza Parayno, one of the OFWs working for the retired general. They were also advised that they will turn over Parayno to the POLO in June.
However, OFW Parayno was not brought to the POLO as promised.
In July, the POLO sought the assistance of the Human Rights Commission, Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development in pressuring the retired general to turn over the OFWs to the POLO.
In August, the ex-general turned over 5 OFWs to Philippine Overseas Labor Office on different dates. They were repatriated in early September.
Bello said Philippine authorities were still negotiating with the influential general for the turnover of 2 remaining OFWs.
"Kaya lang matigas ang ulo nitong lintik na heneral na ito ayaw pakawalan," he said.
(But this general is stubborn and he doesn't want to let them [OFWs] go.)
The DOLE in late May ordered a deployment ban to KSA after it received reports that OFWs were required by their employers or foreign recruitment agencies to shoulder the cost of COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
In Memorandum Circular No. 1, Series of 2021 issued by POEA early this year, the licensed Philippine recruitment agencies or employers of the OFWs should be responsible for the cost of COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
They shall provide the appropriate free COVID-19 testing to the workers, as required by the employer and the country of destination, DOLE said.
They are also tasked to provide social protection benefits, such as health and medical insurance, as well as occupational health and safety provisions, including hygiene kits and personal protective equipment in the workplace in adherence to the workplace guidelines issued by the World Health Organization.
The DOLE lifted the ban days later after the Saudi government mandated foreign employers to shoulder the costs of COVID-19 health protocols of OFWs upon arrival.
—With a report from Zen Hernandez, ABS-CBN News