Ex-OFWs march to OWWA, demand unpaid wages from Saudi firms

Jasmin Romero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 08 2021 09:35 PM

MANILA — Former overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and a labor group trooped to the main office of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) in Pasay City on Wednesday to demand their unpaid wages and benefits from their employers in Saudi Arabia.

The former migrant workers, who brought a papier-mache "cake" and balloons to “commemorate” the Department of Labor and Employment's 88th anniversary during their protest, said they are still waiting for their back wages, 5 years after promises were made that they will be paid their dues.

Some of the workers could not help but become emotional as they recalled their sufferings when they were still in the Middle East, and the challenges they face long after they’ve come back home.

“Ang sabi nila ibibigay, pero ni singko, ni one riyal wala kaming nakuha sa company namin. At 'yung mga kasama namin, naka-red tag pa,” said an OFW who was interviewed under the condition of anonymity. 

“Limang taon na ako dito sa Pilipinas, ni singko wala akong nakuha. Yung mga ayudang sinasabi, nasaan na? Nagka-kaso na kami sa (Philippine Overseas Labor Office), nanalo din kami. Pero sabi ng company, bukas na lang nang bukas. Di na nauubusan ng bukas," he said.

He recalled they had to search for food in the trash in Saudi Arabia just to be able to eat.

“'Di ako pumunta ng Saudi para mamulot lang ng basura, pagkain namin. Nabenta ko ang lupa’t bahay ko. Naipundar ko yun. Nung nag Saudi ako, wala rin. Wala ring nangyari,” he said.

Migrante International chairperson Joanna Concepcion said if their benefits are not given, it will be a big injustice.

“Sana igiit ng ating gobyerno, si (DOLE) Secretary (Silvestre) Bello sa Saudi government na itaguyod ang karapatan ng ating mga Saudi OFWs. Gawin ang lahat para maibalik ang sahod at benepisyo,” she said.

OWWA administrator Hans Cacdac, who addressed the protesters, assured the aggrieved OFWs that they can come to OWWA anytime for concerns.

He said the Philippine government is constantly talking to Saudi Arabia to push for the workers’ salaries and benefits already due to them

“Gusto namin parating buhayin ang issue na ito kasi nauunawaan namin kasi ang mga sahod at benepisyong hinihingi ninyo ngayon ay dapat talagang mapasa inyo, at ito ay karapatan ninyo pong makamtan dahil trinabaho na po ninyo,” Cacdac said.

Cacdac said Bello and his Saudi labor counterpart held talks a few days ago, wherein a technical working group was formed to address these concerns.

However, he admitted getting the OFWs what they deserve is not easy.

“Yung challenge ay paano natin maihahatid sa Saudi side 'yung paghihikahos, paghihirap ng mga Pilipino workers na naglingkod na eh. Kung baga sa gobyerno-service rendered na iyan eh. Sweldo na dapat 'yan pero hindi," Cacdac said.

He urged the distressed OFWs to avail of government assistance, including livelihood programs and scholarships for their children.

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