Will Repatriated OFWs Still Get The Back Wages They Deserve?

Ever since the price of crude oil from Saudi Arabia began to fall a few years ago, thousands of Filipinos working in the oil-rich country have been dismissed from their jobs and sent back to the country.

The drop in global oil price caused economic problems to the Gulf kingdom. A lot of projects started by the Saudi government also came to a complete halt, especially in the construction sector, which employed many Filipinos.

It was then inevitable that when President Rodrigo Duterte visited the Arabian country recently—along with Bahrain and Qatar as part of his Gulf tour—OFW groups expressed their concern over the matter, especially that thousands of Filipinos were repatriated without their corresponding back pay.

The meeting the President, which happened last week, included actions on how to deal with the issue of the unpaid wages of some 5,000 workers who were sacked from their respective companies in Saudi.

“So many Filipinos were laid off. So they were sent home and they were not able to get money,” said Florante Catanus, vice president of the All-Filipino Community and Sports Commission.

While the group is still adamant in getting assistance from the government to repay the repatriated workers, the Saudi government has already taken legal action on behalf of the unpaid workers, both from the Philippines and other Asian countries, even when the workers they represent have already been flown to their homelands.

Saudi Arabia remains one of the leading oil producers in the world. In 2015, the country pumped out an average of 10.05 million barrels per day, supplying 13 percent of the world’s total oil supply.

The country, along with other 12 other oil-producing nations, is also a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the group responsible for 42 percent of total oil production.

However, the country that employs one-fifth of OFWs took a hit during the oil glut of 2014, where the oil-rich nations saw a huge surplus of crude oil that caused the prices spiral down.

The biggest culprit in the mass layoff of Filipinos was the economic downturn suffered by Saudi Arabia due to the string of oil price dip. With a budget deficit of $79 billion last year, government contracts with private firms were affected.

In addition, the “saudization” of different sectors in the said country also contributed in the loss of jobs for Filipinos in favor of Saudi nationals taking their spots.

According to a report by the Manila Bulletin, the pharmaceutical and telecommunications sectors had already undergone “saudization,” with the automobile and health sectors reported to be the next to experience new employment policies.

Getting out of the slippery mess

Last year, the Department of Foreign Affairs led a government relief program that aided the first batch of workers from Saudi Arabia affected by the layoff.

Through different agencies, they provided humanitarian, legal, and other consular services to OFWs who badly needed assistance, especially those who were in dire need of medical and food support.

Aside from the aiding their immediate needs, the government also offered training programs that helped displaced workers find employment opportunities after experiencing layoffs.

Last November, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno assured the repatriated OFWs that they would find jobs in the country.

Diokno said the $50 billion-worth massive infrastructure program spurred by the current administration is projected to manufacture one million jobs annually in the next six years.

He said that this will kill two birds with one stone: boost the economy through government spending and generate jobs especially for the people rendered jobless by the oil glut in Saudi Arabia.

The one-million figure is for the construction industry alone, which still excludes additional employment in related industries.

“There will be a lot of jobs in the Philippines. If they [OFWs] want to come home, they are welcome to come home,” said Diokno in a report by BusinessMirror.