88 Pinay workers in Saudi to stage hunger strike

ANTIPOLO CITY, Philippines —“Kung ganun man lang poh na matagal pa ang desisyon at mag-antay kami ng mag-antay, so napag-desisyunan ng grupo namin na mag-hunger strike kami. Kc bka akala ng mga aming employer masaya kami sa mga supply na binibigay smin. Mas gus2hin pa naming mamatay basta 2loy ang laban namin na makauwi kami. Sir salamat sa inyo po (If the government’s decision will not come out soon and all we have to do is wait, then we will stage a hunger strike do disprove our employers’ speculation that we’re happy with the rations that are given to us. We will opt to die in hunger just to push our fight for repatriation. Thank you, sir),” reads one of the text messages relayed to this reporter by Migrante-Middle East.

The message came from Gemma, one of 88 Filipino workers being held in a custody center somewhere in Riyadh since October of last year.

“They have decided to stop working since October 12, 2009 because of Annasban Company’s unfair labor practices,” relayed John Leonard F. Monterona, Migrante-ME regional coordinator, to this reporter.

Victims of unfair labor practices

Victims of contract substitution, some of the Filipinas worked without receiving a single cent of their salary or received incomplete salaries. Worst, they do not even have a medical insurance.

In the original contracts they signed in Manila, they were promised a salary of SR950 (P 11,564.10 based on the 12 January 2010 FOREX). But when they arrived to Riyadh, this was reduced to SR650 (P7,912.27).

“They don’t even have a pay slip to prove that they are receiving their salaries, and they don’t have any insurance which is a requirement for their job,” Monterona said.

Furthermore, their employer allegedly forced them to pay a “deployment bond” of from SR4,000 (P48,692.21) to SR8,000 (P97,384.42).

“This is illegal, for deployment costs should only be paid by a migrant worker if he or she intentionally breached the contract. However, in this case it was the employer who is doing something wrong. They have not paying the right salary, they are charging the workers with unexplainable deductions and they don’t even paying for the employee’s health insurance,” explains Monterona.

SOS since November 2009

Since November 3 last year, the Migrante office in Manila and their local chapter in Riyadh had been constantly negotiating for the repatriation of the Filipina workers, originally 89 of them, there. But the government, according to Monterona, is acting too slowly on the case.

“Some of them are already feeling hopeless. One of them sent us a text message telling us that they just want to die, for a cadaver is easier to be brought home than warm bodies,” says Monterona.

Of the 89, only one –Emily Lucero – has come home.

“She was immediately repatriated because her husband died in a vehicular accident. She got home November 26, last year,” said Monterona.

Meanwhile, Monterona admits that negotiations for the repatriation of the remaining 88 Filipinas will be tough.

“It is a case of labor dispute. Before they can be repatriated, they need an exit visa signed by their employers. But it does not matter anymore. The crux of the matter is: they need to go home and to be with their families. Though we have received reports from Manila that their respective recruitment agencies are willing to pay their air fare, it is the primary duty of the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration and allied agencies to hasten the process,” he said. (Appeared at Dateline Philippines, Jan. 12, 2010)