MANILA, Philippines — Hundreds of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) bound for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) were not allowed to leave on Friday (May 28) after the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) issued a temporary deployment ban to the Kingdom.
Based on the memorandum issued by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), there were reports that several OFWs were being obliged by their recruiters or employers to shoulder all COVID-related expenses including the insurance premium imposed upon entry to Saudi Arabia.
To date, the department has yet to receive any definite guidelines from the KSA if OFWs are exempted from their policy regarding the ban on unvaccinated foreign travelers or those who have been vaccinated with a brand that is not allowed by the Saudi government.
Based on reports from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Riyadh, OFWs are being charged up to P1,000 dollars before departure from Manila.
“Wala naman kaming na-receive sa POLO na nagreklamo na worker but as I have heard from Manila, sa Manila ko narinig na may mga nagrereklamo dyan,” said Labor Attache Fidel Macauyag.
“That prompted our secretary and on top of that walang clear guidelines ang ating mga advisories dito sa Saudi kung sino ba talaga ang magbabayad,” he added.
As a result of the temporary ban, about 500 OFWs were left stranded as they weren’t allowed to fly despite their existing contracts.
Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) was also surprised by the announcement but proceeded even with an empty flight because there are Filipinos waiting for their flight to the Philippines in Riyadh.
Those who were affected have the option to rebook their tickets to another date once the ban is lifted.
POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia, for his part, promised to address the problem while waiting for clear guidelines from the Saudi government.
“Konting pasensya at konting sakripisyo kasi po ang ginagawa natin ay para sa kapakanan ng nakararami,” Olalia noted.
“Lahat po tayo ay makikinabang dito lalong lalo na ang mga OFWs na pinagbabayad ng institutional quarantine, pinagbabayad ng insurance coverage, pinagbabayad ng COVID-19 test at hindi po kinikilala ang mga vaccine na vaccinated na yung mga OFWs natin,” he added.
Olalia assured that the Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA) will shoulder the accommodation expenses of the stranded OFWs as well as their fare returning to their respective hometowns as a result of the ban. –MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)