Ople: Saudi Arabia says funds to pay off OFWs’ unpaid wage claims ‘already there’

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Ople: Saudi Arabia says funds to pay off OFWs� unpaid wage claims �already there�
View from Riyadh's Kingdom Centre-Sky Bridge.
Philstar.com / Kristine Joy Patag

MANILA, Philippines — Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople said on Friday that funds to pay off outstanding claims of Filipino workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are now with its Ministry of Finance.

In an online briefing, Ople said that the Department of Migrant Workers was told that the amount is sufficient to pay off not just the unpaid wages claims of at least 10,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFW), “but all the other claims, including those of their own people.”

While Ople said that the DMW did not ask for the exact amount, the estimated compensation package owed to sacked OFWs -- some of whom have been waiting for the salaries to be distributed since 2010 -- has been pegged at around P29.2 billion. 

The OFWs who were then working for construction firms were laid off after the KSA was plunged into an economic crisis in 2015. 

“Minister Al-Rajhi (of the Saudi Ministry of Human Resource and Social Development) gave us the good news that the funds to pay for the unpaid claims are now with the Ministry of Finance, under the full authorization of the central government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Ople said.

With Philippine officials meeting with their counterparts in the KSA every week, Ople said that it is “just a matter of time” before details on the distribution of the funds will be ironed out. 

‘Focal person,' committee to work on claim talks 

DMW Undersecretary Bernard Olalia, the designated focal person on all concerns related to the claims, said that the Philippines now has a direct line with the committee handling the unpaid wages.

The government of the KSA set up a default company committee that meets weekly and reports directly to the office of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the processing of workers’ unpaid claims. 

“What’s different now is that there is a focal person. I was assigned, and now we have a direct line with the (Saudi Ministry of Human Resource and Social Development),” Olalia said in Filipino.

Olalia also welcomed the move of the KSA government to proceed with the processing of funds without waiting for the bankrupt companies to liquidate their assets. 

“The reason why the process was slow before because they were still identifying the assets of the companies. But now with the promise of the Crown Prince, the claims will be paid without waiting to see which companies can or cannot pay,” Olalia added.

According to the DMW, these cover nine default companies whose identities may be revealed by the committee in the coming days.

“They said that by next month, which is June, they may be able to give us more details. If not June, at least in the coming months,” Ople said.

Proposal to receive payments for deceased OFWs

Ople added that the Philippines has floated a proposal to have the payments be arranged from “government to government” so that relatives or heirs of OFWs who have passed on could receive the payments on their behalf. 

“The reason why we proposed that is precisely because we explained that some OFWs have passed away while waiting. And the process could be faster if we determine through our own laws who the rightful beneficiaries are,” Ople said in Filipino.

“But this is something the ministry on its own cannot decide. It has to pass through the default company committee and be elevated to the Office of the Crown Prince and the central government,” Ople added.

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