MANILA — Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) Secretary Susan Ople on Saturday said she will fly to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia next week along with other officials to meet with their Saudi counterparts and check on the conditions of Filipino workers there.
Ople said her 5-day trip starting Dec. 6 will also include visits to Philippine Embassy shelters for distressed Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the capital Riyadh and in the cities of Al-Khobar and Jeddah.
The migrant workers chief said she plans to sleep in the shelters, which will be managed by the DMW beginning in January 2023.
"Madali na ikubli ‘yong mga problema. So you really have to go there and you really have to experience it para policy-wise, alam namin ang gagawin namin, especially budget-wise," Ople told reporters at the Dapo media forum in Quezon City.
"Bubusisiin namin ang budget being spent. Ano ang menu, ano ang pagkain ng ating mga kababayan sa shelter? ‘Pag dumadami ba, pinagkakasya na lang imbes na humingi ng dagdag na pera?"
Among the OFWs being housed in the shelters are those who fled abusive employers or are facing criminal charges, with some including senior citizens, Ople said.
She said their goal is to give the distressed workers humane and dignified treatment.
She added this was the perspective they plan to present to their fellow labor officials in Saudi Arabia.
“So para sa amin, nakakaigi ‘’yong government to government diplomacy—labor diplomacy na tinatawag natin—kasi mas klaro ‘’yong human rights perspective from both the employer side at saka ‘yong workers side kapag dalawang gobyerno ang nag-uusap,” Ople said.
Ople will also discuss with Saudi labor minister Ahmed bin Suleiman Al-Rajhi the status of the Kingdom’s pledge to pay the back wages of around 10,000 Saudi-based OFWs who lost their jobs since 2015.
This was relayed by Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammad Bin Salman Al-Saud to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ meeting in Thailand last November.
Joining Ople in the trip are Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) chief Arnell Ignacio, DMW undersecretary for welfare and foreign employment Hans Leo Cacdac, undersecretary for finance and internal affairs Anthonette Velasco-Allones, and undersecretary for policy and international cooperation Patricia Yvonne “PY” Caunan.
The DMW officials will meet with stakeholders in Saudi Arabia, including Saudi recruitment agencies.
They plan to inform these stakeholders of the newly formed agency’s initiatives such as the AKSYON Fund which will hire lawyers and give psychosocial and other types of help to distressed OFWs.
LABOR ATTACHES OVERSEAS TO RETURN TO PH
Meanwhile, labor attaches from the 42 Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) are set to come back to the Philippines, many for the first time in two years, Ople said.
They will take part in the DMW’s first strategic planning workshop in Tagaytay City on Dec. 12-15.
The participants plan to discuss global security issues, overseas demand for Filipino workers, reintegration programs for balikbayans, and mounting an information dissemination campaign to inform OFWs of the new agency.
Ople said this is part of the DMW’s transition to becoming a full-fledged department with its P16.323 billion budget.
The DMW is set to open additional regional offices and will transform POLOs, which provide legal assistance to OFWs, into Migrant Workers Offices (MWOs).
There are currently 42 POLO offices around the world whose budgets are currently sourced from the Philippine labor department, a DMW release said.
A new POLO office will open in Bangkok, Thailand in the first quarter of 2023.