OFWs on hunger strike: Workers sell blood, denounces Saudi abuses

MANILA – After staging a hunger strike last week, at least 194 Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia have resorted to work stoppage in protest against maltreatment and abuses by their employers. Some of them have been selling their blood to hospitals for 300-500 rials for their daily sustenance, a lawmaker said on Wednesday.

But Ambassador Ezzedin Tago of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said there were no such reports of simultaneous hunger strike outside their office.

Tago admitted though that there were “stop-work protests” by Al-Swayeh workers staged by different nationalities. The number of protesters would not reach 194 as what Migrante International was claiming, Tago said. “The truth is there was no hunger strike in Al Swayeh. The truth is there was no hunger strike by the Al Sabillah workers in Al-Jouf,” Tago said.

The alleged hunger strike and labor abuses were the objects of a House resolution filed by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who however did not name the employer or their place of work. Rodriquez, citing a Migrante report, said the there is nothing wrong with donating blood but it is quyite different wheere donors are forced to do so in order to earn money.”

He said the workers in Saudi were undocumented or illegal immigrant. Migrante’s Gary Martinez said the 194 overseas workers consist of 98 Filipinos from Al Swayeh company; 48 cleaners from Al-Zahran; 17 from Al-Naseeb Establishment; 19 from Al Sabillah; and 12 from Phat. These Filipino workers abroad, according to Martinez, were recruited and deployed by active and licensed agencies by the Philippine Overseas Employment and Administration.

“At least 194 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from five companies based in Saudi Arabia continue to hold strikes and stop-work protest against their employers,” Martinez said in a statement released on Wednesday.

These 194 workers were victims of POEA-licensed agencies namely, Saveway International Man Power, Osims Oriental Skills International Manpower, RPF Business Management & Consultancy Inc, Irsal Employment Services Inc., GBMLT Manpower Services Inc., Nawras Manpower Services Inc. (formerly Nawras Manpower Services), Al Assal Manpower Inc., Matawi, 4 Brothers, and other still unidentified agencies.

The Filipino workers were all victims of illegal recruitment and contract violations – overcharging of placement fees, contract substitution, collection of fees without official receipts, collection of excessive fees, loans with high interest rates, poor working accommodations, illegal salary deductions, non-issuance of IQAMA [working permit], non-payment of salaries in 10 months to over one year, no overtime pay, underpayment of salaries and non renewal of expired contracts, residence permit and medical insurance.

On Saturday, Migrante International said that workers from Al Swayeh trooped to the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and camped out. Saudi Arabia Labor Attache Albert Valenciano clarified that there was no illegal recruitment complaint but there were complaints of non payment of salary and end-of-service benefit, and the non-issuance of exit visas to the workers who have finished their contracts.