Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Don't accept jobs in Saudi using visit visas
08/10/2007 02:49 PM

Email this Email the Editor Print Digg this Add to
Philippine diplomatic officials in Saudi Arabia have issued a warning to Filipinos against accepting job offers using visit visas to the Middle Eastern kingdom.“Unless you are looking for trouble, don’t attempt to come to work in Saudi Arabia without a work visa," said Consul General Pendosina N. Lomondot after learning of the plight of seven OFWs who were hired to work in a chain of supermarkets on visit visas and later abandoned at the airport without exit visas when they demanded to be sent home.

Jeddah-based Arab News reported on Friday that the Philippine consulate officials are contemplating on filing a complaint with the proper Saudi office against the Filipinos’ employer -- Sawary Marketing and Development Group – after leaving them to fend for themselves without securing exit visas for them.

The report said the seven Filipinos were among a batch of nine recruited in August 2006 by Alba International Placement Service to work for the supermarket chain. One of them managed to go home last May while another opted to stay.Low salary, excessive placement feesThey were each paid SR938 ($250 or about 11,250 pesos) a month, including a food allowance.Before they left Manila one year ago, the Filipinos were made to pay P35,000 plus P2,825 for medical examination and P2,500 for training.

They were given receipts handwritten on plain paper, purportedly a practice of recruitment agencies to skirt a government-imposed limit on placement fees.“The workers said the processing of their application was so quick that they were all of a sudden told to get ready for their flight on Aug. 18, 2006, even though they did not go through a PDOS, or Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar, as required by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA),"

Arab News reported in a story written by Jedda-based Filipino journalists Romy Tangbawan and Ronald Concha.

The job applicants were told that the PDOS was just a waste of time, and that the agency would just pay for it. Their visit visa issued by the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Manila was good only for one month and was stamped “not permitted to work."However, the Filipinos were told by a certain Emy who introduced herself as vice president of Alba International Placement Service that it would be renewed every three months in Jeddah.“We reluctantly agreed to go because Emy told us that we would be sued if we withdraw and that we won’t get any refund for what we paid," said Jeffrey Ponce, a 30-year-old father of four from Angeles City, Pampanga.

He worked as merchandiser in the supermarket chain’s main store.Living in fear“We were duped into coming here to work illegally. Our company promised to provide us work visas but until now we have not been given any," Ponce was quoted in the Arab News report.“For almost a year now, we have been living in fear, scared of getting arrested because we don’t have work visas," he added.Robert Tornedo, 32, gave up his job as a high school teacher in Aringay, La Union in the hope of earning more abroad. The placement agency gave the workers a letter to facilitate their departure in Manila and arrival in Jeddah.

The letter said they were “invited by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under a visit visa."“This is also to certify that all the names mentioned above will be under our sponsorship and we guarantee their stay and safety while in the Kingdom. All travel expenses incurred during travel to and from the Kingdom will be credit to our account.“We are issuing this guarantee letter to facilitate departure from Manila," the letter signed by Reda Hussein Basha, president of Sawary Marketing & Development Group, contained.

The workers said they lived in fear of being arrested during their year-old stay in Saudi.Raffy L. Flores, 30, of Angat, Bulacan, said their fears and homesickness have been aggravated by their cramped accommodation and meager food allowance.“Sabi ng mga kaibigan namin na mas-malawak pa ang mga selda dito kaysa sa aming accommodation (Our friends tease us that prison cells in the Kingdom are bigger than our accommodation)," he said.

The seven Filipinos sought help from the consulate this week when their employer gave them plane tickets and their passports without securing exit visas for them, after employing them without residency/work permits (iqamas).

Vicky Salian, head of the consulate’s Assistance to Nationals Section, said Sawary was trying to evade responsibility by returning the passports of the seven workers without exit visas.The workers said they asked their employer to send them home primarily out of fear of being arrested for working in the Kingdom illegally.Come forwardConsul General Lomondot said the seven were undoubtedly victims of illegal recruitment in violation of the laws of both Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.“We are still gathering information that this is not an isolated case because we have received information that there are other Filipinos who have been hired to work here without work visas," he said.

Lomondot called on other Filipinos who are in similar predicament to come out and report to the consulate, or to the Philippine Embassy in the case of those working in Riyadh or the Eastern Province.“Come out before you get caught. If you are afraid, seek help from community leaders that you know so that they can bring your case to the consulate or embassy," said Lomondot.

The seven workers said they learned from regular employees of Sawary that their group was the second batch of Filipinos recruited to work at the supermarket chain. The first group of 33 Filipinos demanded to be repatriated also because they were not provided legal working status. They too complained of poor accommodation.A third group of 23 arrived in Jeddah in March but they were sent home in May before their visit visas expired.All but three of those in the third group were sent home when one of them purportedly sought help from a police general about the failure of the company to provide work visas. Flores said that because of the early exit of the third group, he and his colleagues were restrained from leaving when they asked to be repatriated in June.Abandoned without exit visas

Their employer only grudgingly agreed to provide them plane tickets on August 6 after learning that they have sought help from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office.But when they were already at the airport, a Sawary staff came and tried to facilitate their exit but they were stopped at the immigration counter due to lack of an exit visa. “The Sawary representative just left us at the airport and we were forced again to commute. When we returned to the office, our employer refused to talk to us," said one of the seven.

This latest case involving the seven Filipinos should serve as a strong warning against others not to fall prey to similar recruitment schemes offering visit visas, according to the consul general.

No comments: