Nineteen OFWs in Al-Jouf province await repatriation.
The plight of these Filipino workers came to light when Camad M. Ali, executive president of the Southern Philippines Muslim and Non-Muslim Unity and Development Association (SPMUDA), decided to bring their case to the attention of Philippine President Benigno Aquino to seek justice. SPMUDA is an international NGO based in Dumaguete, Philippines.
The SPMUDA president also contacted Arab News to follow up the case with the Philippines Embassy in Riyadh. According to the embassy's labor attache, Albert Q. Valenciano, the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Riyadh is ready to repatriate the 19 OFWs at POLO's expense once their papers are cleared and the OFWs get their exit visas.
He pointed out that POLO had also provided assistance to the OFWs, including payment of rent for the temporary shelter in which they are staying. According to him, they have sent a demand letter to the recruitment agency in the Philippines that deployed the OFWs to provide some financial assistance to them while waiting for the final verdict in their case.
He said the Philippine ambassador himself had visited Al-Jouf province to meet with its governor. They discussed, among other things, the case of the OFWs. The governor expressed his willingness to help them, but said he had to respect the court proceedings that are in progress.
The leader of the OFW group, Norberto Mariposque, said his main problem concerned non-issuance of iqama and driving license, and delays in overtime payment. "I was asked to work without proper papers for the entire duration of my two-year contact. We were also subjected to maltreatment, threats and physical abuses," Mariposque said.
All the 19 OFWs decided to leave the company when two of their co-workers were jailed on petty charges. Following their release, they were threatened by the company. They filed the case before the labor office in Al-Jouf on Feb. 14, 2012, when they felt insecure, and went to the Saudi Passport Department (Jiwazat) to surrender to the authorities. However, they were not detained by the Jiwazat officials as there was no case against them.
The company, in turn, cut off water and electric supply from the OFWs' accommodation. Thereafter, they moved to a rented house of some fellow OFWs in the region. Mariposque said there is much concern among them over the prolonged delay at the Saudi labor office, which makes it difficult for them to get their exit visas. He added that they had been advised by the Passport Department to submit a clemency petition before the Saudi higher authority or concerned prince for getting their exit visas on humanitarian grounds or to expedite their case.
So far, there have been three court hearings on the case, while the next session has been scheduled for Aug. 1. The sponsor has also filed a counter case against the OFWs for leaving their work without proper coordination, as a result of which the establishment has incurred financial loss. What steps should be taken to safeguard the interest of the OFWs will depend on the court verdict.
Copyright: Arab News 2012 All rights reserved.
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