(UPDATED) Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III has ordered the suspension of the deployment of Filipino workers to Saudi Arabia pending clarification on the Arab country’s new Covid-19 protocols for arriving non-citizens.
Bello issued a memorandum on Thursday, May 27, 2021, directing Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to immediately suspend deployment.
“The Department received reports that departing OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) are being required by their employers or 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 memorandum states.
Bello said deployment will resume after this matter has been clarified.
Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (Gaca) on Monday, May 24, issued new guidelines requiring non-Saudis to undergo quarantine for seven days at a facility supervised by the country’s Ministry of Health (MOH).
The cost of this seven-day quarantine will be included in the price of the airline ticket, the agency had announced.
Non-Saudi travelers must also present a health insurance policy that covers coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
Read: No travel ban on unvaccinated travelers in Saudi, DFA clarifies
Exempted from the mandatory quarantine are individuals who have received the complete regimen for Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
Also exempted are domestic workers accompanying Saudi citizens and immunized residents, members of official delegations, holder of diplomatic visas and their families, airline and marine vessel crew, truck drivers and their assistants, and passengers involved in health supply chains determined by Saudi’s Ministry of Health.
Under POEA Memorandum Circular No. 1-2021, licensed Philippine recruitment agencies and/or the principals/employers of OFWs should be responsible for the cost of complying with Covid-19 health and safety protocols.
The recruiters are also tasked to provide social protection benefits, such as health and medical insurance, as well as 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.
According to DOLE spokesperson Rolly Francia, 464 OFWs bound for Saudi were unable to depart on Friday alone.
"We would want this to be resolved as soon as possible. Just as soon as we get a clear-cut guideline on this matter," POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia said in a virtual press briefing. (Marites Villamor-Ilano with HDT / SunStar Philippines)