OFWs who fled from Madagascar not getting OWWA aid

Published by rudy Date posted on April 19, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—Some 300 overseas Filipino workers who reportedly abandoned their jobs in Madagascar, an island-nation in the Indian Ocean, are not entitled to the one-time financial grant of P10,000 from the government, according to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA).

OWWA head Carmelita Dimzon said on Monday the OFWs’ case was “different from that of the evacuees from Libya.”

“They left their jobs (in a Madagascar mining project) because of labor-related issues. They even went on a sit-down strike,” Dimzon told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

According to the OWWA head, some of the OFWs “also complained of malaria.”

But the agency “has a health package for them. In fact, some who were genuinely concerned about their health condition have availed of that package.”

“Those with issues to settle with their principals need to go to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to resolve them,” Dimzon added.

Meanwhile, the militant OFW group Migrante International (MI) has expressed full support for the migrant workers’ demand for financial assistance.

“OWWA funds belong to OFWs who have every right to them especially during times of crisis,” said MI chair Garry Martinez.

Martinez also said OWWA “should have a concrete plan for all OFWs repatriated to the country due to crisis or emergency situations.”

The labor department-attached agency “should not be selective on who it should give assistance to,” he added.

In late 2010, some 2,500 Madagascar-based OFWs threatened to pursue legal action against Kentz Engineers and Contractors, their employer, and its affiliate Manila placement agency for alleged unfair labor practices and breach of contract.

Reynaldo Ubasa, one of the leaders of the group, alleged they were “made to work for more than eight hours a day with no overtime pay.”

In a statement, Ubasa also cited “discrepancies and delays” in the payment of their salaries.

“The construction firm we worked for cheated us of our salaries, prompting us to fight back,” said Ubasa.

The firm also prevented the Filipino workers to “communicate with the outside world, cutting out Internet connection, and seek help in the Philippines,” he disclosed.

The Filipino workers also staged a series of strikes at their construction site in Madagascar, to no avail.

Terry Ridon, chair of the League of Filipino Students, has taken up the cudgels for Ubasa and his co-workers.

Ridon earlier bumped into Ubasa’s group at the Johannesburg international airport shortly before they took a flight bound for Manila.

In an e-mail, Ridon said earlier “our OFWs are suffering abroad under pitiful conditions while the Aquino government leisurely watches them return to the country in tears, deceived and unemployed.”

“Worse, the government had cut the budget for assistance to distressed migrant workers. It also made more problems for OFWs with its compulsory insurance policy,” Ridon said.

The LFS leader asked both Malacañang and OWWA to “respond immediately to the problems of these OFWs.” –Jerry E. Esplanada, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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