A migrant workers’ rights group called Wednesday for the permanent banning of a Saudi Arabian conglomerate from recruiting overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), claiming that the firm has been detaining over 80 OFWs in its various warehouses after they protested against deplorable working conditions, GMA News reports.
Annasban Group, a multi-million company operating in the fields of operation and maintenance, has prohibited 88 women OFWs from leaving the company’s warehouses after they refused to go to work in protest of the firm’s alleged unfair labor practices, such as reduced wage rates, prolonged work hours, and non-issuance of promised benefits.
Its recruitment arm, the Al Nasban Trading and Contracting, supplies labor manpower such as janitors, patient attendants, dental assistants and caregivers to various government-run medical facilities and rehabilitation centers all over the Kingdom.
“Contract substitution is (Annasban’s) main modus operandi, wherein they force OFWs to sign new employment contracts with provisions that are entirely different from the one they agreed to in the Philippines,” Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez said in a statement.
On October 12 last year, three separate groups of OFWs working for Annasban decided to stop working to call attention to their company’s alleged violations of their employment contract, and they have since been locked up in “crowded and unhealthy” structures, according to Migrante.
Some of the violations allegedly committed by Annasban were the reduction of the OFWs’ salaries from SAR950 (P11,581) to SAR650 (P7,924), and non-issuance of benefits as indicated in the original contract such as the $50 allowance (P2,285) and overtime pay even as workers were forced to work for 16 hours daily.
The old contract also included medical insurance and free housing and food provision, all of which were also removed in the new employment contracts according to Migrante.
To compel the government to speed up efforts for their repatriation, Migrante said the detained workers decided to go on hunger strike since Tuesday.
Tales of woe from detained OFWs, families
In a newscast over GMA-7’s 24 Oras, reporter Mark Salazar was able to talk to one of the OFWs, who had to secretly use her cell phone and hide from the company’s guards.
“’Yung iba po may ulcer na, ‘yung iba nagkakasakit na po sa isip. Mahirap po talaga ang lagay namin na ‘di nakakalabas. Sa rooftop, minuto lang po kasi nagsasampay lang po kami,” narrated Helen Manlabe, a caregiver who is one of the detained OFWs.
(Some of us already have ulcer, while the others have become mentally unstable. It is really difficult for us that we are not allowed to go out. We are able to go to the rooftop but we could only stay there for a few minutes to hang our clothes to dry.)
Teresita Manlangit also recounted how her daughter Teresa, another detained OFW, told her how worried she is of her young daughter left in the Philippines and her father who suffered a heart attack due to stress.
“Sabi niya sa akin, Mama, parang hindi ko na kaya ito. Baka masira ang ulo ko,” Teresita said in the newscast.
(She told me, Mama, I feel I can’t take this anymore. I might go crazy.)
Benjie Alcabaza, meanwhile, said her OFW wife fears for her safety as some of her fellow OFWs locked up in the company warehouse get beaten up by the company’s personnel.
“Hininto sila sa disyerto, ikinulong sa bus, tapos doon sa maliliit na butas, binabato sila ng nakasinding sigarilyo ng mga tauhan ng Annasban. Akala nila susunugin sila,” said Richie Mabubay as told to him by her OFW sister.
(They were brought in the desert, locked up inside a bus, and through the small holes of the bus, Annasban personnel would throw them lit cigarettes. They thought they were going to be burned alive).
Embassy heeds calls for repatriation
These tales, as well as the hunger strike staged by the protesting OFWs, has prompted the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh to finally heed their calls to speed up their repatriation, Martinez said.
According to Martinez, the Department of Foreign Affairs sent word that repatriation proceedings would be started on Jan. 17.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration earlier said that Annasban is asking for around P60,000 for each OFW’s deployment costs.
“(The OFWS) felt victorious. But they also said they will not stop the hunger strike until Ambassador (Antonio) Villamor himself shares to them the official result of the negotiations with Annasban,” Martinez added.
As this developed, Migrante renewed its call for the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to permanently delist Annasban as a foreign employer, citing the numerous complaints of contract violations and unfair labor practices lodged against it in the past years.
Al Nasban was disqualified from participating in the overseas employment program in 2005 due to a number of previous complaints against the company. The order was lifted in 2008 after Labor Attaché Rustico Dela Fuente said the cases had been resolved and the agency had reformed its system of employing OFWs.
Migrante records, however, show that even during the three-year ban, Al Nasban was able to recruit OFWs. In fact, the group had received request for assistance from a total of at least 137 OFWs in five separate complaint cases, ranging from contract substitution and illegal extension of contract duration, to prolonged working hours and physical abuse.
“There is a need for a transparent and thorough investigation here,” Martinez said as he questioned how Al Nasban was still able to able recruit OFWs despite the disqualification and despite the numerous complaints filed against it.
Annasban is owned by the “powerful” Al Nasban family, according to Migrante, which includes Engineer Fahad Al Nasban, who is also an immigration police, as its director general.
Annasban hires Filipino workers with the help of recruitment agencies such as Placewell
International Service Corporation, Saveway International, Global Jobsearch Services Inc., United Placeman Philippines Inc., MHHR Manpower Recruitment & Placement Agency Corp. and GMBLT Manpower Services Inc., according to Migrante.
The non-government organization Kapatiran sa Gitnang Silangan estimates that the Annasban employs at least 800 Filipino workers. Source: JV, GMANews.TV