This was the reaction issued by Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez upon receiving the news that the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh will start repatriation proceedings on January 17 for 88 Filipino women who went on a hunger strike to demand repatriation in protest of numerous and continuous contract violations of Annasban Co.
Though expressing jubilance over the news, the women OFWs who are on their 2nd day of hunger strike were also wary about new promises made by the Philippine government regarding their plight.
"When we talked to them early this morning, they felt victorious. But they also said they will not stop the hunger strike until Ambassador Villamor himself shares to them the official result of the negotiations with Annasban," reported Martinez, referring to a phone conversation with Eppie Bellarma, spokesperson of the protesters. "The protesters are ready to continue the strike once repatriation is not done on the 17th."
According to Martinez, this is the first time a concrete response from the Philippine government was issued. On October 12, 2009, three (3) separate groups of OFWs numbering to more than 80 working for Annasban Co. decided to stop working in protest of gross violations in their employment contracts – reduced wage rates, prolonged hours of work and non-issuance of various benefits. Since then, they have been locked-up by the company in crowded and unhealthy accommodations provided by the company. Negotiations started in November. In dialogues conducted by families with the OWWA in the Philippines, OWWA officials mentioned that all that was needed were exit visas. It is only now that the DFA has given a concrete response to their demand for immediate repatriation.
Martinez also said that the families felt the same and are also prepared to take the protest right at the door of the DFA once the repatriation is delayed. "The OFWs and their families will not take anymore promises. They are determined to pursue their cases not only against the Annasban but against conniving arrogant and irresponsible government officials involved."
Ban Annasban, Remove Colluding Officials in POLO and POEA
Martinez wondered why Annasban is able to continue such illegal and inhuman treatment of its Filipino workers despite the numerous complaints against it. They claim that this multi-million company has a notorious record of victimizing thousands of Filipino workers.
Records of Migrante International – MAC (Migrants Assitance Committee) show that there have been waves of complaints against the Annasban, always involving contract violations and unfair labor practices. Since 2006, Migrante International has been handling requests for repatriation from OFWs needing to be rescued from the company.
Martinez said that "contract substitution is their main modus-operandi, wherein they force Filipino OFWs to sign new employment contracts with provisions that are entirely different from the one they agreed to in the Philippines. Since it is rampant, we believe they are able to do so with the collusion of government officials at the embassy and at the POEA. "
He cited that in November 29, 2005, Annasban was already disqualified to participate in the POEA Program because of a growing clamor against the company. It was temporarily banned to hire Filipino workers until it obtained clearances from POLO's in Saudi Arabia. The Order was only lifted in 2008 based on a so-called positive report by Labatt Restituto de la Fuente."
But Migrante's records show that hiring continued even during the ban as numerous cases against Annasban from 2005 to 2008 continued to be filed during the ban.
Martinez continued, "This happened under the very noses of POEA and DOLE officials. A positive report on Annasban was provided by embassy officials DESPITE the filed complaints. There is something really fishy here and it warrants a rigorous fishing expedition by honest officials. Indeed, there is a need for a transparent and thorough investigation here."
"Annasban must be stopped! Conniving government officials must be punished! Migrante intends to take steps to see these through!, Martinez concluded.