Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News
RIYADH - The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be shouldering all expenses related to the planned mass repatriation of thousands of stranded overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Saudi.
The Philippines' Department of Labor chief today met with Saudi Arabia Minister of Labor and Social Development Mofarrej Saad Alhoqubani to thresh out plans on how to repatriate an estimated 2,000 OFWs.
"The government of Saudi Arabia will bear all the cost and we are now to provide all things including tickets to reach their country," Alhoqubani said.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said they are targeting the period from now until the start of Hajj, or the holy months in the Moslem religion.
"We are starting August 20 up to September 9, kasi magsisimula na yung Hajj (because the Hajj will be starting), we hope to bring back at least 1,000 migrant workers," Bello said.
Alhoqubani also said they will be assigning lawyers to help facilitate the claims of unpaid salaries and benefits.
"[If the] workers who will decide to go [have any claims], we assigned many lawyers to go for their claims and go after the companies," he said.
Bello said this assurance from the Minister of Labor should ease the concerns of stranded OFWs.
On the Philippine side, he said, claims will be handled by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) and the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, so OFWs who will be returning to the Philippines should not worry about leaving unpaid salaries and benefits unsettled.
"Inaasikaso na yan ng PAO, sila gagawa ng mga documentation at ang office ng labor attache ang magfo-follow up," Bello said, dismissing fears that government officials will take the money meant for OFWs.
"Unfounded yung fears nila, ano naman gagawin namin sa kokolektahin nila, andyan ang pangulo (Duterte) na ayaw ng kalokohan,” Bello said.
Both Bello and Alhoqubani said the repatriation is without prejudice to those who want to stay. In fact, the Saudi government also allows OFWs to look for jobs with other companies if they wish to stay in the kingdom.
"We give three options, one is to stay and find another employer but still keep his right to go after the company for his claims. Second is to go home and also assign someone to go after his claims in the company, and third if he decides to stay with the company," Alhoqubani said.
Bello clarified, however, that they cannot shoulder, or advance, the OFWs’ claims because it will pose a problem on government audit procedures.
Bello is calling on undocumented OFWs to approach labor offices in Riyadh, Jeddah, or Al Khobar so they can receive assistance in returning to the country.