SONA 2023

Marcos boasts processing Saudi OFWs’ claims in SONA, but workers still unpaid

Michelle Abad

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Marcos boasts processing Saudi OFWs’ claims in SONA, but workers still unpaid

BONGBONG MARCOS. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers his second State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives on July 24, 2023.

Lisa Marie David/Reuters

Thousands of former OFWs still await payment of their back wages eight months after the Saudi Crown Prince promised to pay the billions of pesos owed to them

MANILA, Philippines – In his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 24, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. highlighted that the claims of thousands of former overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi Arabia were being processed after long years of waiting. But this money has yet to reach the workers.

“The unpaid salaries and other related claims of some 14,000 OFWs, who have been put out of work in Saudi Arabia during the pandemic, are being processed. The Crown Prince himself personally committed to me that the unpaid claims of Filipino workers would be paid,” said Marcos.

Marcos appeared to mix workers displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic with the workers who lost their jobs around 2015 when their construction companies went bankrupt. In November 2022, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperations (APEC) Summit in Bangkok, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a commitment to Marcos that the kingdom would pay the salaries of around 10,000 OFWs affected by the closures, amounting to 2 billion riyals (around P30 billion).

In a statement aired on Facebook live after the SONA, Migrante Philippines chair Arman Hernando pointed out that Saudi Arabia’s commitment to the Philippines is old news, and that the OFWs are still waiting for the payment of their salaries and end-of-service benefits (ESB).

May nabigyan na po ba sa atin ng unpaid salaries at benepisyo, batay sa anunsiyo ni Pangulong Marcos? At kung hindi man nabigyan pa eh, naanunsiyuhan na ba kayo, nasabihan na ba kayo kung kailan kayo mabibigyan, kung paano ang proseso? Tingin ko po wala pa eh,” said Hernando.

(Has any one of us received unpaid salaries and benefits, as what President Marcos said? And if you haven’t received it, have you been told when you will receive it, and what the process is? I don’t think so.)

In April, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) instructed all claimants to send their details to a specified email to finally receive their salaries. Then, in a statement on June 30, a year since Marcos assumed the presidency, DMW Secretary Susan Ople said that the problem involving the Saudi OFWs’ claims were “in the last stretch of being resolved.”

In her bilateral talks with Minister Ahmad bin Sulaiman Al Rajhi of the Saudi Ministry of Human Resource and Social Development, Ople said that the funds to pay the OFWs were already with the kingdom’s finance ministry, and there was an inter-agency committee studying how to efficiently manage the processing of the claims.

Anthony Patiag, a former heavy load driver at the Rajeh H. Al Marri & Sons company in Saudi Arabia, expressed frustration over the SONA announcement, as he has yet to receive the 54,000 SAR (P787,131) in unpaid salaries and benefits from his former company.

Sasabihin niya sa SONA na nangako ang [prinsipe] ng Saudi na babayaran na kami sa mga ESB namin…. ‘Pag nakipag-usap kami sa kanila sasabihin lang ng DMW ayaw pa nila magbigay ng comment kasi wala pa sila hawak,” said Patiag, referring to a meeting his group had with the DMW in early 2023.

(He said in the SONA that the Saudi prince promised that we would get our ESB…. But when we talked to the DMW, they did not want to give a comment because they don’t have [the money yet].)

Pinangakuan na kami. ‘Yang SONA na ‘yan, isang budol lang ‘yan para sa gaya naming mga dating OFW,” he added. (We were already promised before. That SONA makes a fool out of us former OFWs.)

Hernando suggested that the government advance the unpaid salaries while awaiting the money transfer from the Saudi government.

Kung talagang seryoso sila na ibigay na ‘yung unpaid salaries ng mga Saudi OFWs – matagal na nga po naming panawagan diyan eh – abonohan muna nila…. Sinasabi ni Pangulong Marcos na pinahahalagahan niya ang sakripisyo ng ating mga OFWs. Eh di unahin na nilang bayaran, at ireimburse na lang nila kapag nagbayad ang Saudi Arabia sa kanila,” said Hernando.

(If they are serious about giving the unpaid salaries to the Saudi OFWs – and this is a call we’ve recommended for a long time – they should shoulder it first…. President Marcos says that he values the sacrifices of our OFWs. Then they should pay it first, and then reimburse when Saudi Arabia pays them.)

The DMW in March announced that it was going to distribute P10,000 in aid to each of the claimants as they continued to wait. The department has a budget of P15.8 billion for 2023.

During the Rodrigo Duterte administration, then-labor secretary Silvestre Bello III announced that the Saudi government would pay P4.6 billion in unpaid salaries to the laid-off OFWs. That announcement was in October 2021, and Bello announced that the money was expected to come in December that year. – Rappler.com

1 SAR = 14.5765 PHP

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.