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Friday, June 18, 2010

Some Pay The Price To Be An OFW

"I am not the biggest pessimist around, but I only hope the fraction of reasons known to be oppressive to us migrant workers gets the most urgent of attention from the Aquino administration."

Today I stumbled on an article about twenty six OFWs in Jeddah, who resigned from their work due to their   company's alleged contract violations. These workers work as machine operators at Arabian Gulf Manufacturers Ltd. for Plastic. Their complaints stemmed from the company's failure to pay for their overtime work and illegal salary deductions. According to them, the contract they signed in the Philippines stipulated that they will be receiving monthly salaries of 1,200 Saudi riyals, but they were only getting 900 riyals. On May 20, these workers had already filed their resignation effective a month later which is required by the Saudi Labor Law.

It has been reported that as early as September  2009, these workers had already written a letter to the POEA in the Philippines which it also forwarded to the Consulate in Jeddah for immediate action. However, the latter claimed they did not receive the letter. (palusot?) According to Consulate officials, negotiations are still ongoing with the company but if it does not prosper, the option is still open to file a case against the employer before the Primary Commission of Saudi's Ministry of Labor. 

With barely three days to the effectivity of their resignation which is on June 20, these workers fear that they might be kicked out from their accommodation. Originally, the resigning workers numbered 36 but ten of them decided to continue with their work despite contract violations. According to Consulate officials, they have spoken to the agency in the Philippines and got the word that they will shoulder the airfare tickets of the 26 workers but could not give the details. According to them, if after three days they could not present their tickets to their employer, their repatriation will not be processed and so they will be forced to finish their contracts.

This predicament of our compatriots is not new to most of us nor its gravity shocking. This modern day slavery and oppression against our fellow OFWs has been happening since time immemorial.  But unless there are people in the government who thoroughly understand the problem of migrant workers, there will always be similar cases like this  and its occurrence doesn't see its end in the foreseeable future. Countless of sad tales have been told about OFWs especially in the Gulf countries preyed upon by unscrupulous agencies and employers, but I am yet to see a law that guarantees the protection of a migrant worker from these profit-driven soulless predators, and so I just can't  let go of my disappointment of seeing some inutile, inept and slothful flubs in our government doing nothing to improve the conditions of the "modern day heroes" they so gloriously pontificate on.

I am in no way condemning those people in the government who spare no effort to alleviate the miseries of our compatriots, rather I am so critical of the systemic fraud and deception our clueless countrymen have been subjected to, who only aspire to earn decently only to be slapped with the gruesome reality when they get here. It is a universal knowledge that contract changing is the name of the game. What I do not understand is, why the government in its capacity, unable to ensure both agencies and employers to strictly comply to what has been stipulated in the contract agreed upon by all parties, so as not to lose their license for the agency and blacklisting for the employer? Or perhaps, I really do not understand what I am blabbering about? But either way, something should have been done to get these people out of the evil trap called "modern day heroism".

Year 1996, not quite resembling a modern-day hero shortlist, when I first ventured working abroad albeit my frail frame and youthful slackness. I couldn't be less familiar to this painful experience, for I too became an unsuspecting recipient of such a systemic fraud of contract-changing and being subjected to harsh working conditions,  fearful of what lies ahead in a strange and adverse environment. The only hope that drives you out of despair - when there are people around you showing a shred of humanity that keep your rage die down, when words of comfort are a luxuries hard to find.

Now, do we hear talk of solutions? At least to calm the troubled souls down? Or maybe it is too early? The nation may be prowling on over-excitement welcoming an incoming resident in Malacanang, and so our Consulate officials who may be pondering on their own survival after their big boss leaves? Perhaps, I see so early in this new beginning the complacence, power-tugging and collision of interests indicative of a weak leadership? I am not the biggest pessimist around, but I only hope the fraction of reasons known to be oppressive to us migrant workers gets the most urgent of attention from the Aquino administration.

My sympathies go to these fellow OFWs who may find themselves contending with uncertainties whether or not they will be repatriated soon lest they see themselves subsisting on alms from the generous. I could only wish them "better luck next time" or succinctly enough, "please don't ever try coming here again". Bottomline is: for as long as the system doesn't get fixed, there will always be people falling through the cracks. And the cycle continues - evil cycle that is.
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Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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