RP gov’t failed to assist 122 distressed OFWs in Libya

Manila – Migrante International’s regional chapter in the Mid-east assailed the Macapagal-Arroyo government due to its failure to assist the 122 Filipino migrant workers allegedly abused by their Libyan employer.

In an email sent by Migrante Middle East’s (Migrante-ME) regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona, he says that last June 23, he personally received an eight-page complaint letter signed by 122 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) working with M/S. Aleskan Construction Company in Libya, accusing their employer of forced contract substitution with a salary different from the contract that they have signed in the Philippines.

The forced signing of the substitute contract happened upon the Filipino laborers’ arrival in Libya, last April.

Worse, says Monterona, the new contract states no overtime pay and that the workers are living in unsanitary quarters, and their working condition, poor with no health and medical provisions.

“The 122 OFWs were deployed by batches during April 2009 by Bison Management Corporation Philippines who were supposed to work for BAB Tarablus Project in Tripoli, Libya but were instead sent to another company named Aleskan Construction Co. with its project in Benghazi, a thousand kilometer far from Tripoli, Libya. Based on the contract [that] they’ve signed in the Philippines, a skilled worker and a foreman must receive US$400 and $ 700 a month respectively. However, upon arriving there, in Libya, they were given LYD250 ($197.126 based on the prevailing exchange rate on July 4), in flat rate” said Monterona.

He also said, that the said OFWs have never received their two-month salary.

No medical and health provision

Monterona also revealed that the company does not have any medical workers, a nurse or a doctor, to regularly check their health conditions or to attend their medical needs, whenever they fell ill.

Because of the failure of the company to provide its workers proper medical and health help, some of the sick OFWs have sought help from the Filipino community, explained Monterona.

He also said, the 122 OFWs cite a case of a co-worker confined in a hospital in Benghazi and only visited once by official of the Philippine Embassy.

Furthermore, the 122 OFWs also complained of having no stand-by emergency vehicle at their camp and work site; they were not given their personal protective equipment such as hard hat, hand gloves, safety belts for overhead works, no dark glasses; and there is no potable water at the work site to help them cool out whenever they thirst after working long hours under the sun.

Packed like sardines in their barracks

Adding to poor working condition, is the barrack where the 122 OFWs live, with the floor area of only 166.17 square meters, too small to accommodate them all, laments Monterona.

“There are only 10 toilets and a single washing machine to wash their clothes,” he added.

Philippine Embassy’s inaction to the OFWs plight

Citing the distressed OFWs’ letter of complaint, Monterona stressed that the Philippine Embassy in Tripoli knew the problem well for the Consulate has already conducted three (3) Consular visits on May 15, June 4, and the most recent, was on June 22.

“Our kababayans repeatedly aired their problems to Beau Cerdena, Philippine Embassy’s representative, who made the ocular inspection,” he said.

Last May 15, the distressed Filipino workers sent a letter, addressed to Ambassador Alejandro Vicente, asking for assistance and urging the Ambassador to help solve their problems.

“[But] it seems that our officials in Libya are already immuned to the complaints of our Filipino workers, thus they are not acting on it. It is a clear gross disregard of their responsibility and duty as officials who are supposed to, and are expected to, provide assistance to our OFWs in distress. Because of their negligence and inutility, these officials must be immediately replaced. Salarying them is only wasting the Filipino taxpayer’s money,” Monterona further said.

Monterona, meanwhile, said that the attitude of the RP officials deployed in Libya, is but a reflection of the current government’s policies concerning OFWs.

He also accused the Macapagal-Arroyo government of selling its labor force cheaply and raking billions of dollars of profits out of its labor export program, while outrightly disregarding the “exported” Filipinos’ rights and welfare as human beings and as workers.

Despite labor malpractice and abuses, RP to continue “export” workers in Libya

On the other hand, last May the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) announced that Libya is in need of about 16, 000 Filipino workers for its construction, hospitality, medical, and other services sectors.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque said, citing a report from Labor Attaché Nasser S. Mustafa of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Libya, that while jobs were lost in countries affected by the global economic crisis, the employment situation in Libya remains upbeat and highly favorable for overseas Filipino workers (OFW).

Libya, being the fourth largest country in Africa that has become wealthy because of its oil reserves, is impervious of the harsh effects of the global crisis due largely to its oil resources, noting that its government continuously focuses on this country’s development with vigor, the labor secretary said in a statement published at the DOLE’s official website last May 9.

“Right now,” Roque said, “the north African country is focusing on the “construction aspect of its development.” He also said that Korean firms like Daewoo, Hyundai, and Al Nahr have recently been recruiting thousands of OFWs for their projects.

He also said these firms are in need of Filipino engineers, other professionals, and skilled construction workers for the construction of Libya’s man-made river, hotels, power plants, housing units, and road and renovation projects.

In addition, oil firms in Libya have also reportedly showed their intention to recruit professionals and skilled oil and gas workers from the Philippines.

Roque said, Mustafa is constantly conducting meetings with these companies as well as with other firms in Libya who are in need of foreign workers – in the hopes of paving the way for the deployment of more Filipino workers to the African country.

Roque said he also expects that the construction of new hotels in Libya would mean more employment opportunities for OFWs in the hospitality and tourism sectors.

Likewise, he said that more Filipino doctors and nurses and other medical workers may also be deployed soon to Libya.

He said the POLO in Tripoli has already started talks with the Libyan Health Ministry for the recruitment of around 4,000 Filipino medical workers for the Tripoli and Benghazi Medical Centers and other hospitals and clinics in Libya.

“The employment prospects in Libya and nearby nations are favorable for OFWs as they continue to be the preferred choice among foreign employers,” Roque said on that same statement, noting that OFWs have become popular abroad not only for their skills, industry, adaptability, and facility with the English language but also especially for their cheery disposition. (Noel Sales Barcelona/Pilipinas Reporter)