PH sends team to rescue OFWs stranded in Saudi
THE PHILIPPINES said on Tuesday it would deploy a team of social workers and labor officials to provide assistance to more than 11,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) stranded in Saudi Arabia after they were laid off as the kingdom reeled from a softening of oil prices worldwide.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said it had earmarked P50 million for the month-long special mission, which would take place from August 10 through September 11 in the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam/Al-Khobar.
Apart from social workers, the DSWD said others joining in the mission were teams from the departments of foreign affairs, labor and health.
The affected OFWs have been languishing in makeshift tents across the kingdom for months after they were laid off as Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of petroleum, suffered from weak prices. The workers have been unable to come home for lack of exit visas or because they were still hoping to get their back pay.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulazziz Al Saud has waived penalties for the stranded Filipino workers, and has committed a raft of assistance to the workers, including plane fares and food aid. The Saudi government has also offered to assist the Filipinos to look for jobs elsewhere, as well as legal assistance to collect monetary claims from their companies.
“Our kababayans are in serious crisis because their employers did not pay their salaries,” Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said.
“They are also confronted by many difficulties caused by the expiry of their end-of-services benefits. Many were not given exit visas after they completed their contracts, and are being delayed for repatriation,” she added.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who will be joining the mission, said the Saudi government had also guaranteed to protect the stranded workers’ rights.
“We were also informed that the Ministry of Labor will allow the transfer of workers to other companies should they wish to continue working in KSA,” Bello said. “The workers may look for new employers, and the good thing is the Ministry of Labor will mobilize the Mega Manpower Companies to offer jobs to workers.”
He said the offer was “a welcome development” and a big help in Manila’s efforts to secure the welfare of its workers.
Bello will be joined by labor undersecretary Ciriaco Lagunzad III and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) chief Hans Leo Cacdac.
Among others, the 10-member DSWD team will extend counseling and debriefing to the distressed OFWs prior to their return, while members from other agencies will help in providing relief and medical assistance.
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