By Migrante International
In an initial study by Migrante-KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), at least 50,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in industrial sectors Kingdom-wide will be affected by the present energy crisis in the Middle East by March 2016.
Primarily affected are workers of Saudi Oger Ltd. and Bin Laden Co., two of the biggest contractors hired by the Saudi government for construction and industrial projects.
According to Migrante-KSA, at least 20,000 OFWs from Saudi Oger Ltd. have already been affected by the crisis since last year, while at least 5,000 OFWs are set to be retrenched by Bin Laden Co. come March 2016 in light of mass lay-offs and austerity measures being employed by the Saudi government. (Attached herewith is an internal memo, acquired confidentially by Migrante, released by Bin Laden Co. ordering the “third batch of reduction in labor force targetting up to 15,000 lesser employees”. No information is available on how many workers have already been laid off in the first two batches.).
Earlier, Saudi Aramco, the country’s national oil industry, had already warned of massive retrenchment of 25% of its labor force due to financial cutbacks.
“A big crisis is in our midst, even as the Philippine government attempts to downplay it. Since October last year, our OFWs in these two biggest companies have either been ‘idled’, their iqamas (work permits) not renewed, their wages withheld for as long as six months or their work hours lessened. Nakatambay na po ang mga OFW natin sa Saudi. Tinetengga na lamang ang mga gustong umuwi o magpa-repatriate hanggang sa mapaso ang kanilang exit visa,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante Partylist 1st nominee.
According to Martinez, thousands of OFWs are now “tambays” in construction and industrial camps while they await resolution of labor cases they filed against their companies. “They filed cases for non-payment of wages and other labor violations. The very least the PH government should do is to ensure that they be paid their dues and be given their end-of-service benefits bago man lang sila mapauwi. What is our government doing about thousands of OFWs with pending labor cases there?”
Saudi Oger Ltd. and Bin Laden Co., being the two biggest contractors, hire numerous sub-contractors that employ thousands more of OFWs. Migrante-KSA is also presently facilitating the labor cases of the OFWs in the following small companies: Al-Aman Contracting, 30 OFWs; Drake & Scull, 15 OFWs; Rabya Contracting, 10 OFWs; Al-Omari, 12 OFWs; MRF (Bin Laden), 15 OFWs; Arab Tec, 1,000 OFWs; Kabbani, 2 OFWs; and, Alrashid Abetong (Riyadh), 300 OFWs.
“The shrinking labor markets in Saudi and the Middle East will also inevitably cause stricter immigration measures that may endanger the lives of welfare of our OFWs. Already, the KSA government is implementing crackdowns on undocumented migrants and tightening regulations in business establishments,” Martinez said.
Martinez said that the economic letdown can also spell danger for OFWs in the Middle East. “Our chapters in KSA had already reported of riots and violence erupting within some of the labor camps because of withheld wages.”
Effect on domestic economy
“What does the government plan to do with the effects of the Middle East energy crisis? There remains no clear blueprint from the Philippine government on what it plans to do in the event of massive retrenchment and displacement of migrant workers. Like before, the government is downplaying the potentially colossal consequences of the crisis on the lives and welfare of our OFWs, not to mention its negative effects on the domestic economy,” said Martinez.
There are two million OFWs in Saudi Arabia alone. Saudi Arabia is presently the largest hirer of OFWs, and it has the largest Filipino population in the Middle East. It was also the second largest remittance-sending country in 2014. Filipinos are the fourth biggest group of migrants workers in Saudi Arabia.
No jobs, no comprehensive reintegration program
“What awaits tens of thousands of OFWs in the event of their emergency return? Definitely there are not enough domestic jobs available. Unfortunately, the government’s reintegration program is a sham. We lack a comprehensive and sustainable reintegration program for returned OFWs. What the Aquino government offers are mere dole-outs and band-aid solutions that are not long-term solutions to unemployment, low wages and lack of social services. Most of the government’s reintegration programs for returned OFWs are made up of loans and one-time livelihood programs.”
He cited the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration’s (OWWA) ‘Balik-Pinas’ reintegration package as “an insult to OFWs. “This reintegration package comes from funds that come directly from OFW contributions, walang ilalabas na pondo ang gobyerno para rito.” OFWs are required to pay a $25 OWWA membership fee for every two-year contract.”
“Ang OFW na ang siningil sila pa rin ang pagbabayarin sa pautang na galing mismo sa pagod at pawis nila. These loan packages and so-called ‘starter kits’ do nothing to address massive unemployment and job generation for our returned OFWs,” he said.
Martinez said that the government has to decisively deviate from its labor export policy and instead focus on creating decent and sustainable local jobs to end the cycle of forced migration. “It is high time that the government reviews its labor export policy in light of these recent developments in the Middle East. No domestic jobs are available for our OFWs in the event of their emergency return. The government’s recourse is to once again seek markets for them abroad despite the ongoing global financial crisis that continues to displace thousands and thousands of our OFWs. It’s a never-ending vicious cycle, when does it end?” Martinez said. ###
For reference: Garry Martinez, 1st Nominee, 0939-3914418