RIYADH: During her recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Philippine Secretary for Migrant Workers Susan Ople met with Saudi government officials to discuss the development of bilateral relations between the two countries, the working conditions of Filipino workers in the stranger and raising awareness of common problems.
Sitting at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, the future new office for migrant workers, Ople told Arab News that the purpose of her visit to the site was to oversee processes, learn more about workers’ concerns and from within. office mechanisms.
During her visit, the Secretary met with her counterpart from the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, Ahmad Al-Rajhi.
“We had a very pleasant conversation. We are creating new avenues to further strengthen the long historic friendship between the Philippines and Saudi Arabia,” Ople said.
Saudiization, the policy of creating and prioritizing opportunities for Saudi workers, has been established as a key goal of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, and Ople has expressed respect and understanding for the policy.
“We also have our own employment strategies in the Philippines, so Sauditing and ensuring that your own nationals are gainfully employed is something we respect.
“It is very important that we continue to speak with our counterparts in the Saudi government, because only by having these two-way conversations can we guide our people accordingly,” she said.
One of Ople’s main goals is to conduct reviews of systems to ensure the safety of workers under their employers, both in the Philippines and in overseas jurisdictions.
“This is a necessary step towards reforms. Because we are a department in transition, we need to look at old and current processes, and just see how to strengthen, improve or maybe even remove some of them,” she said.
The goal of establishing the new Office of Migrant Workers is to equip OFWs with appropriate resources, information, protection and opportunities while working in Saudi Arabia, creating a “home for every migrant worker in government “, she said.
Last year, Saudi Arabia’s expatriate population of 13.49 million included around 1.6 million OFW.
One of the Labor Department’s initiatives is to create a single command center for repatriation. The 24-hour hotline is dedicated to serving Filipino residents in Saudi Arabia for any issues that arise by dialing 1348.
“Any Filipinos, their families who wish to return home because they are sick, or because there are certain breaches in the contract, or are victims of human trafficking…can call our hotline,” said Ople.
The Secretary is an advocate for the fight against human trafficking, having even received the Human Trafficking Hero Award from US Secretary of State John Kerry, and was appointed as a Trustee of the United Nations Trust Fund for victims of human trafficking.
“I’m quite optimistic about the possibility of a partnership. We can work with different countries here across the Middle East to raise awareness of the need to combat human trafficking, particularly involving migrant workers, as some of them are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse serious,” she said.
As a spokesperson, Ople also stressed the importance of fair and ethical recruitment policies that respect labor rights in terms of human rights and promote fair wages.
“Recruitment agencies, country of destination, employers; they should all adhere to a human rights-based approach to the recruitment and employment of migrant workers, whether Filipino or of any nationality,” she said.
Ople visited Bahay Kalinga Shelter in Riyadh, a refuge for runaway maids, to check on the situation of distressed OFWs and provide a platform to voice their concerns.
These talks culminated in Ople’s conversation with Al-Rajhi, who promised to look into the cases.
“It was a moving visit…they were able to tell me about their journey as migrant workers here in Saudi Arabia. Some have not been able to fulfill their contracts. Some complained about the treatment they received. Others just wanted to go home.
“I think it’s the role of our department to just look at how these issues can be resolved and treated and possibly prevented, so that fewer and fewer of these women need to go home with so many invisible scars.” , she said.
Besides domestic violence, some of the biggest issues facing OFWs are cultural adjustment, proper education about their rights, and access to the justice system.
Ople hopes to establish clear legislation that ensures transparent working conditions, timely wage payments, opportunities for communication with family, appropriate rest times and support for the physical and mental health of workers.
The agreement on domestic workers, ratified in 2014 by the Saudi and Filipino parties, is an important step in the field of labor cooperation and in the protection of the rights of Filipino workers.
“It is very important that we continue to review and even improve the bilateral working agreement that we had with Saudi Arabia, and that is why we are here for the talks, and also why we appreciate the hospitality that show our Saudi counterparts,” she said.
Ople will join officials once again in December for a joint committee meeting, returning to Riyadh to have those formal talks.