Scores of distressed of distressed OFWs in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East are getting abused not just once, but twice and even more times ironically by fellow unscrupulous Filipino nationals.
OFW rights advocates Eli Mua and Faith Buencamino, who are both based in Saudi Arabia, said some Filipinos, employed as liaison officers by Foreign Recruitment Agencies (FRAs) in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East have been cheating distressed OFWs. Stopping their malpractices is difficult because distressed OFW victims are often unaware of the scams, as well as their rights and privileges under local laws, said Mua.
“Certain FRA liaison officers are really abusive as they cheat OFWs who are already distressed and abused by employers. These abuses often come in the form of errant FRA liaison officers receiving monies from employers intended to pay unpaid salaries and for the purchase of plane tickets of distressed OFWs who have asked to go back home to the Philippines,” Mua said.
“But instead of giving these monies to distressed OFWs, these unscrupulous people pocket them. They even make the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) pay for the plane tickets of those awaiting to go home,” he said.
Because of these malpractices, unscrupulous FRA liaison officers cheat not only distressed OFWs, but also the Philippine government and the country’s taxpayers, he said.
Buencamino said similar malpractices are being perpetraded by unscrupulous FRA liaison officers in Qatar. “I’m now handling cases of distressed OFWs in Qatar confined in certain places or moved by FRAs from one accommodation to another,” she said even as she also cited difficulties assisting those unable to understand well what needs to be done to resolve and overcome their problems. While assistance is being arranged in their places of work, family members in the Philippines of distressed OFWs should also help and take actions by pressing government agencies for assistance to hasten their abused kin’s repatriation and their return home.
Mua cited worst instances of certain notorious FRA liaison officers who have coerced and even forced some distressed OFWs to become “sex workers” as a means for the liaison officers to earn money at the expense of distressed OFWs. Philippine labor officials in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East should investigate malpractices being perpetrated by errant FRAs and their Filipino staff, he said.
He said he is compiling evidences of abuses and malpractices of FRA liaison officers and asking victims to file formal complaints with POLO officials against culprits. But he admits difficulties in persuading victims to file signed formal complaints, lest their flights home get delayed or derailed.
Mua said labor officials should investigate abusive FRA liaison officers for the sake of distressed OFWs who have already suffered maltreatment from their employers. Their accreditation with the Philippine government should be cancelled, he said, though he stopped short of outlining the mechanics of how the deregistration scheme could work.
The following measures can and should be taken to stamp out the malpractices of errant FRAs and their liaison officers in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East:
1] Use Facebook and other social media to expose scams being perpetrated by FRAs and their unscrupulous Filipino staff. Alerting and warning OFWs in general against malpractices will go a long way to curb their incidence.
2] Philippine embassy and consulate officials should issue public announcements and warnings via Facebook and other social media against alleged FRA malpractices.
3] Officials should invite victims to file complaints via Facebook and other social media for complainants’ convenience accompanied by an assurance that complaints will be treated in strict confidence.
4] A pro-active – not a lazy or lackadaisical – stance should be taken towards complaints by embassy and consulate officials.
5] If five or more complaints are filed against a particular FRA or liaison officer, the party should immediately be asked to respond to the anonymous or official complaints before embassy or consulate officials.
6] In the event of failure to rebut adequately various filed complaints, the subject of the complaints can be subjected to an initial accreditation suspension 14 days or more depending on the gravity of the complaints.
7] Incorrigible and repeat offenders should be slapped with longer accreditation suspensions of six months to one year in the event of serious complaints and failure to address and rebut those complaints.
8] Embassy and consulate officials should not hesitate to cancel accreditations of serious offenders to demonstrate to everyone that decisive and bold actions are being taken to stamp out malpractices that victimize OFWs already maltreated by unscrupulous employers.
If decisive and punitive actions are not taken, malpractices by unscrupulous FRAs and their liaison officers will persist and continue to haunt and bedevil distressed OFWs.