Stranded OFWs: Official in Talks with Saudi Minister

RIYADH — Filipino and Saudi officials are working together to help thousands of stranded workers, a diplomat said Wednesday as the Philippines labor secretary visited.

The roughly 11,000 Filipinos are among tens of thousands of workers affected by financial troubles at the Kingdom’s major construction firms.

“Their salaries have not been paid, some of them for as long as eight months,” Iric Arribas, charge d’affaires at the Philippine embassy, told AFP.

“It turned into a humanitarian crisis.”

Workers were unable to renew their residency permits, meaning they could not leave the country and could not access their bank accounts, he said.

Some living in company accommodation “did not have food”, Arribas added.

About 7,000 of the Filipinos worked for Saudi Oger Ltd., while 3,000 were with Saudi Binladin Group and the rest with other firms, Arribas said.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman earlier this month ordered various measures to help affected foreign workers.

These include a waiver of penalties for expired work and residency permits, payment for flights home, and for food and accommodation when the employers were no longer meeting their obligations.

Lawyers hired by the Saudi government will handle claims for delayed salaries, even if workers leave the country.

Arribas said Philippines officials and the Saudi Ministry of Labor and Social Development are coordinating “to implement the general provisions of the directive from the King.”

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello on Wednesday thanked King Salman for his help.

Bello, who met his Saudi counterpart Mufrej Al-Haqbani, handed over a letter of gratitude from President Rodrigo Duterte, Arribas said.

Before leaving for Saudi Arabia Bello told Philippines television that Duterte wants the workers back as soon as possible.

“The majority of them would like to go home” and perhaps return to work in the Kingdom later, Arribas said.

The stranded Filipinos worked in a variety of jobs including engineering, technical and office positions.



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