DFA: Saudi OFWs’ chance of getting unpaid wages ‘not realistic,’ but ‘not impossible’
MANILA, Philippines — The scenario where the unpaid claims and wages of over 10,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia will be settled within 2023 is “not realistic, but not impossible.”
So said Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Eduardo De Vega during a Congressional oversight committee hearing on Thursday.
He was responding to the question of Senator Raffy Tulfo on when the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) expects the unpaid wages to be settled.
The senator’s query was based on an earlier announcement by the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW).
“We don’t want to appear we’re contradicting the word of our fellow agency (DMW), but the DFA will be frank, be honest,” De Vega began his answer.
“Early this year, our embassy reported that it is not realistic to expect the payment to come this year,” he disclosed.
The undersecretary revealed this information was received before DMW met with Saudi’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (MHRSD).
Nevertheless, De Vega clarified that while the settlement within 2023 was “not realistic,” it was “not impossible.”
However, Tulfo said, the two situations De Vega identified are the same – OFWs are not receiving their money anytime soon.
When asked by the senator for his side, DMW Acting Secretary Bernard Olalia said they met with Saudi’s MHSRD in May.
Olali, however, failed to give a specific date or time frame when Saudi plans to settle the wages.
“Nandoon na tayo, nag-confirm na si minister. Ang siste, noong nag confirm si minister, in-announce agad ni Secretary [Susan “Toots” Ople],” Tulfo recalled.
(We are already there. The minister has confirmed. The catch is, when the minister confirmed it, the Secretary immediately announced it.)
“Dapat, hindi niya ginawa ‘yon, dahil ang daming umasa,” the senator said.
(She should not have done that because so many people hoped for it.)
“It’s like a false hope. Don’t give our kababayans false hope,” he chided DMW.
(It’s like false hope. Don’t give our countrymen false hope.)
“They’re hoping na makakatanggap sila ng pera. After so many months, years, of waiting, ‘yun pala wala. Pinaasa lang natin.” Tulfo stressed.
(They’re hoping that they will receive money. After so many months, years, of waiting, it turns out there is none. We just made them hope for it.)
“Mag-announce lang kayo ‘pag sigurado na kayo,” he told DMW officials.
(You should only announce when you are already certain.)
De Vega said the DFA also received information that the employers of the OFWs will settle the claims and not the Saudi government.
This arrangement is contrary to DMW’s previous announcement that it will be the Saudi government itself that will shoulder the settlement.
“Ang understanding, it’s not Saudi government money which will pay for the non-payment …” De Vega testified.
“It may [have been] lost in translation. Again, this is what we had in April. Yung legal process,” the undersecretary made a guess as to what may have happened.
The DFA official further divulged that what the Saudi government intended to do was just to put pressure on the companies so that the employers would release the funds earned by the OFWs.
These new pieces of information perplexed Tulfo.
De Vega’s statements prompted the senator to further criticize Ople.
“Next time tell your boss, ‘wag basta basta ibukas ang kanyang bibig para sa kapakanan ng lahat,” said Tulfo.
(Next time, tell your boss, don’t just open her mouth for everyone’s sake.)
Tulfo then urged DMW to work with its attached agencies to expedite the OFWs’ unpaid claims settlement.
He also urged Overseas Workers Welfare Administration chief Arnel Ignacio to join the talks with Saudi Arabia.