Rough Cuts | This other way of exploiting OFWs

We have taken this topic up some two weeks back in our Cebuano column published every Saturday of the week.

We are writing about this again today because we believe that some of us Filipinos who are aspiring to work abroad must be warned of the modus operandi of some supposedly government-accredited recruitment agencies but are still adopting some schemes to skirt the law.

Yes, a few Saturdays back we tackled the subject of OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) who left the country with high hopes and somehow with relative ease because of the facilitation of certain agencies in the country. But these OFWs ended up being denied of the actual salaries and benefits stipulated in their contracts, sadly with the collusion of their recruitment agencies. And one of these OFWs is a nephew of ours who left the country some nine months back to work as an automotive painter in a shop in Damam, Saudi Arabia. His contract of employment was for two years.

Our nephew Ralph breezed through in his application because of his experience as a highly skilled automotive painter in Davao working in a Panacan-based Japan surplus vehicle importer firm and distributor of these vehicles after its reconditioning and refurbishing.

He was interviewed right in Davao City by one of two brother owners of the Damam-based automotive repair shop. His interview was arranged by First Dynamic Personnel, Inc., a Quezon City-based recruitment agency that has one of its clients the Damam motor shop.

Per arrangement with the recruitment agency the shop owners shouldered the cost of travel including documentation. Our nephew Ralph with one other from General Santos City was to pay 500 Saudi Rials monthly. Since the payment period was for seven months we assume that the total expenses of the company to bring our nephew alone was P49,000.

But here is the catch of his story. He and his fellow OFW’s contracts were for 1,500 rials a month with free lodging. They have to take care of their meals though. However, according to our nephew, they were made to sign two contracts of employment. The other contract they were to receive as monthly salary 2,500 rials, or a difference of 1,000 rials per month. The First Dynamic Personnel pleaded with them to sign the contract with 2,500 rials as monthly pay because that is the minimum salary of OFWs with their skills to be issued worker’s visa in Saudi Arabia.

And considering that their tickets were already procured and presented to them and they were to fly the day after, our nephew and his companion grudgingly obliged.

As expected the two of them were immediately made to start their work even as they could hardly settle in their boarding house. To their chagrin, what was told them as the ideal living quarters they will be housed was totally the opposite of what they got.

Knowing that there is nothing much they could do on the matter since they were already there, our nephew said they made the most out of it and worked to the best they can.

But he and his companion later found out that their job in the shop was not just the one that they were recruited for. He was hired as automotive painter, yet he had to do vehicle body building. So it was for his fellow OFW from General Santos.

As days went by and turned into weeks and weeks into months he had observed that his employers were already totally different persons from the ones they knew during the recruitment and in their first few days under their employ. They turned into abusive to them and far from being customer friendly. They were bullied and in several instances spat upon right on their feet when the shop owners got into arguments with customers.

According to our nephew after their seventh month in their job and their accounts were fully paid, their salaries the following months were not given. Instead he and his fellow Pinoy OFW were told that the shop was losing money and that they need to reduce their salary to just 1,000 Saudi Rials. The owners also told them they will declare bankruptcy or sell their shop to any interested party. The problem, according to our nephew, is that a sale is not allowed unless there are employees in the company. In effect, according to our nephew, they will also be “sold” together with the shop. And by that time their recruitment agency will already be out of the picture.

Since the cost of living in Damam is extremely high he and his companion Pinoy decided not to take the offer of continuity in the job with a reduced salary. So they requested for exit clearance so they can apply to another automotive company that has shown interest to take them in. They were denied the clearance and worst, they were threatened by the owner of their boarding house with a suit for not paying their monthly rentals. When the told their landlord that it was part of their agreement with their employer firm that their stay is for the account of the former, they were curtly told the shop owners did not pay. So, they have to. Our nephew said they suspect the boarding house landlord was in cahoots with the shop owners.

Their next move, said our nephew Ralph, was to call the sister of his companion in Manila and asked her to bring the issue to the recruitment agency. According to Ralph’s companion his sister was initially given a run-around by the officials of First Dynamic. They only acted when the sister threatened the agency she will seek the help of columnist Ramon Tulfo.

The first move of the recruitment agency was to call them and convinced them to accept the reduced salary and continue working. The agency even suggested that they surrender their Passport to their employer shop. And since they were already decided to go back to the Philippines because they were not anymore paid their two months salaries they demanded from the agency that it helps them convinced their employers to give them their exit clearance so that they can leave Saudi Arabia.

According to our nephew the agency negotiated with the shop owners who later “agreed” to give them the exit clearance and pay for their plane ticket back home. Their unpaid salaries were to be given on their way to the airport upon surrendering a document related to their employment contract. Our nephew said he and his fellow OFW left their boarding house for the airport without any money. It was a good thing there were other OFWs who knew of their predicament. They raised 500 rials and gave the money to them at 250 rial each.

That little amount save their trip back to the Philippines since upon their arrival at the airport one of their employers who accompanied them only gave their tickets. Their two-month salaries were not released; not even a single rial. Worst, according to our nephew, their employer showed them their tickets and waited until the check-in time was almost over before handing it to them. When they demanded for their salaries as promised they were told that there was none and their boss waved them goodbye.

And their 250 rials? It was barely enough to pay for excess baggage in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and in Kuala Lumpur where their plane had stop-overs.

Now, if this fate of our OFWs is happening to some of them, our Labor and Foreign Affairs Department officials should not only be wary of the behavior of foreign employers; they should also be strictly keeping eyes on the character of Filipino recruitment agency officials and their practices. They need to monitor these unscrupulous recruiters who are too willing to sacrifice their fellow Filipinos in exchange for money.

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