Government urged to talk to Saudi Arabia over OFW ban

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Friday, July 1, 2011

MANILA -- A Philippine senator called on the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to set a meeting with its counterpart in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over a freeze in the hiring of Filipino and Indonesian workers.

Starting July 2, Saudi Arabia will no longer issue work visas with Philippines and Indonesia because of its recent labor row with the two countries over salary cap.

In a note verbale from the Saudi government dated March 12, the Saudi Arabia decided to stop processing, verification, and authentication of employment contracts of Filipino household service workers (HSWs).


The note effectively stops the hiring of Filipino domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, said Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) head Carlos Cao.

Militant migrants group Migrante-Middle East (MME) said the ban would render jobless around 360,000 Filipino HSWs.

With this, Senator Loren Legarda, Senate committee on foreign relations chair, said the DFA should pursue a fourth Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) with Saudi Arabia.

The last JCM was in 2008 and Legarda said developments in the Saudi Arabia that affect overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) warrant a new meeting.

Early this year, the Philippines demanded higher pay of $400 for HSWs and better working conditions for workers deployed in Saudi Arabia. However, both Manila and Riyadh failed to reach a compromise especially after the Philippines refused an offer of $200 a month.

"Just like Indonesia, our paramount consideration is the dignity, welfare and protection of our HSWs," Cao said.

According to news reports, the Kingdom's labor ministry ordered the ban on work visas for Filipinos because of this.

The ministry said it would bring in domestic workers from other countries.

"Our government should build on the results of the last JCM and, while addressing the concerns of overseas Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, ensure that our OFWs continue to work only in countries where their rights are protected," Legarda said.

She said the recent note verbale from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs banning HSWs has implications upon departing Filipino household workers bound for Saudi Arabia and those whose contracts are bound to expire in the coming months.

Migrante said the new Saudi Arabia policy may leave at least 360,000 Filipino workers jobless, a figure that is four times the government's estimate.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz earlier said 90,000 Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia may risk losing their jobs when the Arab country will require local companies to hire their own nationals in compliance with its Nitagat scheme.

Under the Nitaqat, companies will be classified into four categories, excellent and green (complying companies) and yellow and red (non-complying companies), and each category will be required to employ a minimum number of Saudi citizens based on company size, among others.

Yellow-coded companies will be unable to renew work visas of foreign workers beyond six years, while red-coded companies will no longer be allowed to renew the work visas of their foreign workers at all.

Excellent- and green-coded companies can still hire foreign workers but those already in Saudi from red- and yellow-coded companies.

Red-coded companies are given until December 11, 2011 to improve their Saudization before restrictions come into effect, while yellow-coded companies have until March 11, 2012 to comply.

John Leonard Monterona, MME regional coordinator, said program may affect 30 percent of the 1.2 million Filipino workers in Saudi. "This will affect across all trades, category or position."

Deployment of Filipino workers to Saudi Arabia has dropped to 80 percent since March, when employment contracts began to be suspended. (AMN/Sunnex)

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