My education as a labor advocate would never be complete without a personal visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That visit should have taken place years ago when my father was Secretary of Foreign Affairs. My father, Ka Blas, and I as his chief of staff, were in Kuwait for an official visit. Saudi Arabia would have been next in the itinerary but for some reason, the visit was deferred.
What makes up for this huge gap in my personal knowledge are the generous stories, information, and communications between and among myself, embassy officials led by Ambassador Ezzedin Tago, our labor attaches, and Filipino community leaders. We have ongoing e-mail conversations and Facebook exchanges particularly on the deportation of Filipino workers without the proper Iqamas (residence cards).
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a very hospitable country to foreign workers including more than a million Filipinos. I know of fathers who worked in Saudi Arabia that were succeeded by their sons thus sparking a generational cycle of skilled workers. We have a lot of successful medical workers in the desert kingdom, too. That old phrase “katas ng Saudi” emblazoned on jeepneys and tricycles all over the country rings true until this very day.
Filipinos who continue to work in Saudi Arabia without proper work and residence documents are now in a race to get their papers in order. A grace period of ninety days was given to all nationalities that are no longer with their original sponsors or employers but continue to stay in the Kingdom to work for someone else. That grace period ends in July.
To ensure that foreign workers with irregular status can beat the deadline for compliance with the requirements of the amended Saudi labor law, the Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Interior issued the following guidelines:
• Workers can return to their original employer upon mutual agreement, or transfer to a new employer even without permission or consent of the original employer.
• Companies can correct the occupations of their workers during the grace period, and free of charge.
• Runaway household workers (“huroob”) can return to their original individual employer or transfer to a new individual employer. The prospective individual employer may complete the procedure for the transfer of the worker through the Jawazat Offices.
• Household workers can also transfer to a private sector company through the MOL Labor Offices.
• Illegal Filipino workers have the option to leave the Kingdom (Final Exit) instead, without the need to obtain No Objection Certificates from their current employers, provided that they do not have criminal charges or records against them. They will also be allowed to return to the Kingdom in the future if they are able to obtain valid working visas.
• Hajj and Umrah overstayers who arrived in the Kingdom before 4 July 2008 can correct their status as either a household service worker or as private sector company worker. Overstaying Hajj and Umrah who arrived after that date may leave without penalties.
All penalties and fines accruing to an illegal worker before 6 April 2013 will be waived, except for regular processing charges.
Private rights claims between a Filipino worker and his/her current employer will be settled through the court, and will not prevent the Filipino worker to transfer to a new employer.
Employers are now clearly obligated to hand over to the worker all his personal documents – such as passports and residency permit (iqama) – upon request. Employers are also obligated to make sure that the residency permit (iqama) of workers are valid. Failure to do so is sufficient grounds for a worker to end their contractual relationship. (Source: Philippine Embassy, Riyadh)
Based on these guidelines, it is evident that the Saudi government is doing its best to come up with fair, compassionate, and reasonable procedures for foreign workers with irregular immigration status. It is now up to our workers to comply with said guidelines and for our Philipine Embassy and Consulate-General to help them fulfill the necessary requirements.
I believe in the sincerity of Philippine Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Ezzedin Tago. He is a career diplomat who is fluent in Arabic and quite familiar with the problems and concerns of our workers in Saudi Arabia. He deserves respect from the Filipino community in the same way that his counterparts in the Saudi government have accepted him as our representative with grace and dignity.
As a labor and OFW advocate, I respect and admire the role of our ambassadors and consul-generals as well as labor and welfare attaches in advancing the cause of our overseas workers. There are, of course, some misfits in their ranks but their puny existence can never diminish the collective service of their more heroic colleagues.
Saudi Arabia will always be a topnotch destination for Filipino workers. We welcome the Kingdom’s new initiatives to take care of foreign workers especially the household service workers. It is up to our workers to use the tools outlined under Saudi law for their protection. (Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow my blog: www.susanople.com)