Tuesday, December 28, 2010

OFWs in Madagascar stage strike vs firm, seek repatriation

Four overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Madagascar arrived home on Sunday, and hundreds more are expected to return, following weeks of strikes against their employer, which they accused of labor malpractices.

In a phone interview, Reynaldo Ubasa, one of the OFWs who returned to Manila told GMANews.TV that he and three other workers of the Kentz Engineers and Constructors in Madagascar were repatriated on Sunday, but that over 50 others are stranded in a hotel in Madagascar waiting for their flight back home.

Hundreds of Filipino workers have also expressed their desire to go home in the next few months if their complaints remain unaddressed, he claimed.

Ubasa is just one of about 2,500 Filipino workers of Kentz in its Madagascar sites, who staged strikes against the company three times since November, complaining of salary delays, non-payment of overtime work, absence of pay slips, poor accommodation, and discrepancies in wages.

GMANews.TV tried to get the side of the management of Kentz in Madagascar, but calls to the number listed on their website went unanswered.

Kentz is a global construction and technical support firm with hundred of clients in the hydrocarbons, infrastructure, process, water, telecommunications, power and industrial sectors. It has been operating for over 90 years, and has some 10,000 employees in 26 countries.

Ubasa said Kentz employs Filipino workers, mostly men, in a refinery or a power plant — the two company sites in that island nation found off the east African coast.

The majority of the workers arrived in Kentz in September this year, deployed by different recruitment agencies in Metro Manila, he added.

Some 600 OFWs are likewise set to be hired by Kentz in Madagascar, which targets the hiring of 3,000 Filipino workers.

Nakakatatlong-strike na kami. (We’ve held three strikes already)," Ubasa said in a phone interview.

(Ang) pinakamatindi ‘yung huli kasi matapos silang mangako ‘dun sa dalawang nauna naming strike, wala pa ring nangyayari sa mga reklamo namin (The third one was the last straw because the company did not fulfill the promises it made to us during our first two strikes), he said.

According to Ubasa, workers were forced to work 10 hours a day, sometimes even on Sundays, without overtime pay. Their salaries were also released to them in installment, making them unable to send remittances to their families back home on time.

In a separate statement sent through the militant youth group League of Filipino Students (LFS), Ubasa said that one of their labor union officers had almost been forcibly taken by the company’s security and pressured him to stop the strike.

LFS national chairperson Terry Ridon had met up with the group of workers in O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa’s capital, while they were in transit to Manila.

“We had resisted the companies’ machinations to make us submit and surrender. We did not. In response to the forcible taking of our leader, we prevented the departure of the management vehicles from the work site, " Ubasa said.

As a response to the workers’ protest actions, the company has instituted full-scale repression in the workplace, he lamented.

“The company has totally removed communication with the outside world," Ubasa disclosed.

Access to the Internet has been blocked to prevent us from seeking help from friends and relatives the Philippines, he claimed.

The Kentz management also did this to prevent the uploading of videos showing the force (used) by company security officers against our leader, he said.

As soon as his co-workers arrive in the country, the OFW said, they will troop to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to press charges against Kentz and the recruitment agencies that sent them to that company.

PHL Embassy in Kenya intervenes

Meanwhile, Roger Gonzales, officer-in-charge of the Philippine Embassy in Kenya, which has jurisdiction over Filipinos in Madagascar, assured the workers that he is constantly in touch with Kentz to ensure the resolution of their complaints.

“I have been calling a company representative and he assured me that they will exert their best efforts to make sure the 50 other workers stranded in a hotel will be sent home before New Year," Gonzales told GMANews.TV in a separate interview.

Gonzales said he has also asked the company to address the workers’ other concerns, such as the delayed salaries, crowded accommodation, and failure to give out pay slips.

The company is set to send him a formal letter outlining how it will heed the workers’ demands, the embassy official said.

Despite the labor problems, Gonzales said they have yet to file formal complaints against the company, as they have still to complete their investigation into the issue.

Records from the POEA show that the number of Filipino OFWs deployed to Madagascar began increasing in 2007, when 166 workers were sent there, up from just 23 in the previous year. In 2009, over 1,000 Filipino workers were sent to the east African island nation.

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas estimates that of over 23,000 Filipinos in Madagascar in December 2009, only 77 were permanent residents; the rest were temporary workers.

There are no Philippine government offices in Madagascar. The Philippine Embassy in Kenya — over 2,200 kilometers away from Madagascar — has jurisdiction over Filipinos residing or working in that island nation. —DM/KBK, GMANews.TV

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