Philippines Bars Workers from Seeking Employment in Saudi Arabia

Luis Liwanag and Jeoffrey Maitem
Philippines Bars Workers from Seeking Employment in Saudi Arabia A group of Filipino workers arrive at the Awang Airport in Cotabato, southern Philippines, after being stranded in the Middle East during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nov. 6, 2020.
Mark Navales/BenarNews

Manila has barred Filipino workers from going to Saudi Arabia for employment after the Middle Eastern country allegedly asked migrant workers to bear the cost of COVID-19 health and safety protocols, officials said.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III wrote to Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) administrator Bernard Olalia instructing him to impose the labor freeze immediately.

“[Y]ou are hereby instructed to effect the temporary suspension of deployment of Overseas Filipino Workers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia effective immediately and until further notice,” Bello said in his memorandum dated Thursday, but released to the media on Friday.

Bello said he had “received reports that departing OFWs are being required by their employers or foreign recruitment agencies to shoulder the costs of the health and safety protocols for COVID-19 and insurance coverage premium upon their entry into the Kingdom.”

OFWs refers to overseas Filipino workers.

Bello’s order is intended for Filipinos seeking employment in Saudi Arabia. His statement did not mention the more than 1 million Filipinos who are already working in the Middle Eastern country.

The ban would cover all household services labor and skilled workers. Most Filipinos working in Saudi Arabia are employed as laborers, nurses or domestic helpers.

Last year, Filipinos there sent home nearly U.S. $2 billion (95.5 billion pesos) in remittances, according to government figures. These migrant workers are a major part of the Filipino labor force and have a role in keeping the economy afloat.

The labor secretary said the lack of “clear and expressed” guidelines from Saudi Arabia on who would shoulder the cost of the workers’ quarantine expenses and insurance was the reason he barred Filipinos from going to be Saudi Arabia for employment.

Labor Attaché Fidel Macauyag told reporters that there had been complaints coming from Manila about OFWs who were supposedly made to pay for their insurance and quarantine fees.

“I think that information angered the [labor] secretary a little and that prompted him to issue the order,” Macauyag said.

The quarantine fees, according to him, could be as much as 3,500 Saudi riyal (44,575 pesos).

“That is why the secretary wants specific guidelines stating that the employer must be the one tasked to pay for the cost of these expenses for quarantine and insurance,” Macauyag said.

In 2019, Manila declared a temporary ban on citizens going to work in Kuwait after the deaths of at least two Filipinos, including a maid who was found dead in a freezer in her employers’ abandoned apartment in Kuwait City the previous year.

The central government lifted that ban after Kuwait apologized and the two nations signed a deal to protect Filipino workers in the Persian Gulf state.


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