The House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs and the House Committee on Labor and Employment have been urged to look into the “worsening” situation of overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) in the Middle East, including their deplorable condition in quarantine centers, wage cuts, and the increasing cases of employer abuses.
Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) partylist Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza, chairperson of the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs, led the filing of House Resolution No. 1095 calling on his panel and the committee, chaired by 1-PACMAN partylist Rep. Enrico Pineda, to look after the welfare of estimated 1.2 million registered OFWs working in the Middle East and recommend urgent measures to address their concerns.
“It has been four months since the COVID-19 pandemic and business closures began in various countries in the Middle East. Many of our OFWs have lost their jobs and sources of income for daily subsistence,” he said.
He noted that even prior to the pandemic, the majority of OFWs in the Middle East work in destitute conditions and suffer from various forms of abuses and exploitation from their employers.
“These working conditions only worsened when the pandemic-induced lockdowns and economic restrictions caused massive job displacement and increasing cases of employer abuses,” Mendoza said.
Joining Mendoza in filing HR No. 1095 are Pineda, and the six-man Makabayan bloc—Bayan Muna partylist Reps. Ferdinand Gaite, Carlos Isagani Zarate, and Eufemia Cullamat; ACT Teachers partylist Rep. France Castro, Gabriela Women’s partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas, and Kabataan partylist Rep. Sarah Jane Elago.
Under the three-page resolution, the lawmakers noted that as of July 20, 2020, around 72 percent of the recorded 9,136 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Filipinos abroad across 67 countries or 6,605 cases are OFWs located in 27 countries across the Middle East and Africa, citing data from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
They said the number of COVID-19 casualties among OFWs in the Middle East "has seen more than a hundred additional deaths” from June, as the death toll stood at 374, as of the end of July.
The lawmakers said only 50, 577 of the 167, 626 stranded OFWs reported by the DFA, as of July 26, are expected to be repatriated by the end of July.
“At this rate, OFWs would have stayed for half a year or more before they are repatriated, not to mention possible underreporting and inconsistencies in data regarding affected OFWs. Our OFWs are in grave despair—without a viable source of income, they are left with no money to spare to pay for rent, food, medicine, and other basic needs for themselves and their families in the Philippines,” they said in filing HR No. 1095.
They cited the case of OFW Bernadette Erlano and the 300 other Filipino women working as cleaners under the Jawa Human Resources in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, who have not received salaries and were merely provided with meager allowances since March 1.
Mendoza’s group also scored the “inefficiency” of the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO) in responding to the urgent needs of the OFWs.
They said the OFWs have repeatedly pleaded with POLO officials for help, hoping they can be assisted by the Philippine government in demanding for their salaries and in bringing them back home.
“The Philippine government’s systematic neglect of the welfare and betterment of migrants makes them highly vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 infection. Even prior to the pandemic, OFWs in the Middle East have been grossly abused and mistreated by their employers without receiving ample assistance from the national government or from POLO officials,” read HR 1095.
“Inadequate salaries and benefits, on top of exorbitant government exactions and the lack of concrete programs to ensure their rights in host countries have severely compromised their physical and mental well-being,” it adds.