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DOLE, Saudi firms reach agreement to help displaced OFWs 

Philippine labor officials have reached several agreements with officials of beleaguered firms in Saudi Arabia to help the displaced OFWs, many of whom have been complaining of delayed salaries

The Philippine team, following the series of meetings, has also asked Saudi Labor Offices in Riyadh, Al Khobar and Jeddah to immediately order the employers to pay back wages and benefits of affected OFWs.

The request was made during the five-day special mission of Labor Undersecretary Ciriaco A. Lagunzad III and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Director Albert Valenciano to Saudi Arabia to negotiate for the protection and welfare of OFWs in companies experiencing financial troubles.

The affected OFWs were employees of Mohammad Al Mojil Group of Company (MMG), Saudi Oger Ltd. and the Saudi Binladen Group (SBLG), according to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Saudi Oger

Lagunzad said Saudi Oger officials have assured them that the payment of OFWs' delayed salaries will begin by the end of the month.

"We were also assured by Saudi Oger President Farid Chaker that Saudi Oger will pay all the penalties for expired Iqama of workers (numbering 3,180) and that this problem will be solved by April 2016," he said in a statement.

"He also made assurance that exiting workers (numbering 224) will receive their salaries and benefits," Lagunzad added.

Saudi Oger Ltd. has 7,580 Filipino workers as of March 6, 2016, of which 800 are classified as management level employees.

Mohammad Al Mojil Group

The team also met with MMG officials to tackle the case of the more or less 400 displaced OFWs there who have expressed their intention to go home.

"The final exit visas of 152 workers are now being processed by the Jawasat (Immigration Department)," Lagunzad said. "This leaves about 260 more workers who just recently manifested their wish to be repatriated."

The DOLE said each worker will receive SR 2,000.00 as advance payment for end-of-service benefit, while the advance payment of penalties for expired iqama will be charged against the account of MMG.

"The team reaffirmed the earlier agreement and plan for MMG to pay 20 percent of the workers’ claims before they leave and pay the remaining 80% through the Philippine Embassy under a special power of attorney (SPA)," the DOLE said.

The DOLE said 18 Filipino workers have already been repatriated, including 11 with medical problems.

Saudi Bin Laden Group

Meanwhile, Lagunzad said Nehad Ismail of SBLG has promised to facilitate the processing of the exit visas of the 40 OFWs working for the firm's subcontractors who have expressed their desire to go home after completing their contracts.

Although there 4,854 Filipino workers in SBLG, the largest construction company in Saudi Arabia, it was not clear yet if how many of them are affected by the drastic decline in oil prices.

"Ismail also recognized that the sharp decline in oil prices in the world market has affected SBLG... and this will result to retrenchment of workers although he does not have the figures yet," Lagunzad said.

“We also gathered that between 2015-2016, there were 2,845 workers who were deployed to Saudi Arabia with SBG as visa sponsor but were later transferred to its sub-contractors Empower and CPC,” Lagunzad said.

Many of those who were transferred to sub-contractors, he added, had difficulty obtaining their iqama as the SBG account with the Immigration Department (Jawasat) was closed and no personnel-related transactions could be processed.

The team recommended that the concerned Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLOs) in Saudi Arabia to continue monitoring the implementation of the agreement/plan adopted to resolve the problems of workers of the three companies. —KBK, GMA News