The government will assist overseas Filipino workers bound for Saudi Arabia, who were stranded following the Department of Labor and Employment’s order temporarily suspending deployment to the host country.
Philippine Overseas Employment Administration chief, Bernard Olalia, said the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration will assist around 403 stranded OFWs at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport after they were barred from boarding their flights yesterday.
“I just spoke with OWWA Deputy Administrator Mocha Uson, she’s on her way to the airport to assist our stranded OFWs. The OWWA is ready to provide them with hotel accommodation and food,” he said in a virtual forum.
He added that they are coordinating with their counterparts in the host country to clarify reports that OFWs bound to the host country are being required by their employers/foreign recruitment agencies to shoulder the cost of Covid-19 health and safety protocols.
He said that an official declaration from Saudi Arabia that employers will shoulder such costs will resolve the issue.
The Philippine Airlines also confirmed that the OFWs were denied boarding two flights from Manila to Saudi Arabia.
“They were not accepted for boarding because they were declined by the Bureau of Immigration,” PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna told the Philippine News Agency.
Villaluna said 283 OFWs were affected due to non-inclusion on PAL’s Manila-Riyadh flight, while 120 OFWs were not accepted on the Manila-Dammam flight yesterday.
Flight PR R5654 Manila-Riyadh departed at 11 a.m. with no passengers, while flight PR5682 Manila-Dammam departed at 2 p.m. with only three non-OFW passengers, Villaluna confirmed.
In a statement, the carrier said it decided to push through with the two Saudi Arabia flights “so that PAL can serve hundreds of OFWs and other Filipinos who urgently need to fly home to the Philippines on the return flights”.
It also said that while it has yet to receive any government directive to airlines not to accept Saudi-bound OFWs, PAL had complied with instructions from Immigration authorities.
On Thursday, DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III issued a memorandum to the POEA for the temporary suspension of the deployment to the Arab state.
“In the interest of the service, you are hereby instructed to effect the temporary suspension of deployment of OFWs to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia effective immediately and until further notice. The Department received reports that departing OFWs are being required by their employers/foreign recruitment agencies to shoulder the costs of the health and safety protocol for Covid-19 and insurance coverage premium upon their entry in the Kingdom,” the Order added.
Bello said he will issue an official statement on the resumption of deployment of migrant workers to Riyadh after the matter has been clarified accordingly.
It was learned that the cost of the institutional quarantine and insurance is 3,500 Saudi rials, or around P47,000.
In Memorandum Circular No. 1, series of 2021 issued by POEA early this year, the licensed Philippine recruitment agencies and/or the principals/employers of the OFWs should be responsible for the cost of Covid-19 health and safety protocols.
Also, they shall provide the appropriate free Covid-19 testing to the workers, as required by the employer and the country of destination.
The agencies are likewise tasked to provide social protection benefits, such as health and medical insurance, and occupational health and safety provisions, including hygiene kits and personal protective equipment in the workplace in adherence to the workplace guidelines issued by the World Health Organization.
The licensed Philippine recruitment agencies and/or the principals/employers also have the responsibility to provide meals, accommodation, and transportation from the point of hire to the intended destination to ensure that the deployed workers are negative for Covid-19 before deployment.*PNA