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Unified Contract In Saudi Brings Legal Slavery

Press Statement
Phillipines
12 March 2003

Reference: Ramon Bultron, Managing Director
Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM)

Unified contract in Saudi brings legal slavery
OFWs hold Labor Secretary Sto. Tomas accountable

It is high time for Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas to stop washing her hands off of anti-migrant policies that she has either instigated or has been a party in its conception.

The Saudi Arabia National Recruitment Committee Unified Contract (SANARCOM-UC) has again exhibited the propensity of the Labor Secretary and her office to divert the flak that her irresponsible moves have caused the OFWs in the Kingdom. Contrary to the claims that the Secretary and the DOLE has no part in the Unified Contract, OFWs in KSA have reported that Sto. Tomas even boasted to them that she has discussed the said policy with Saudi Labor officials in her visit in May 2002.

How can Sto. Tomas and the DOLE then maintain a "hands off" response to the Unified Contract when her "chop" is written all over it?

At the very least, the Secretary is very much aware of the plan to implement the said contract. In the maximum, even if we grant that it is a transaction between private recruitment agencies, a green light has been given by the Secretary for it is the DOLE that supervises and monitors policies of Philippine recruiters.

As the head of office, Secretary Sto. Tomas must be held accountable for the implementation of UC. Even to claim distance from the matter is an abandonment of OFWs to whom her office is directed to provide protection from exploitative working conditions exemplified by the Unified Contract.

Secretary Sto. Tomas must stop playing the innocent and, for once, face the music and suffer the consequences of her rash actions.

The Unified Contract is a scheme that institutionalizes the rampant contract substitution in KSA. Contract substitution is the practice of giving OFWs, upon arrival in Saudi Arabia, a fresh contract different than what they have processed in the POEA. The "substitute contract" is very much unlike the Model Employment Contract of the POEA that sets the benchmark in wage and other benefits that OFWs should receive. Because of the inhuman provisions of the "substitute contract", many OFWs are forced to run away from their employers and become stranded.

This is the legal slavery that Sto. Tomas and the DOLE have surrendered our OFWs into. This is the fate of the OFWs that Sto. Tomas must answer for. Whatever her name implies, Sto. Tomas is hardly a saint but a modern Pontius Pilate.

The Unified Contract is a replay of the POEA Governing Board Resolution No. 1 Series of 2001 signed last March 5, 2001 by Philippine Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas recognizing the agreement made between private recruitment agencies in the Philippines and Taiwan to legalize the collection of exorbitant placement fees on Filipino overseas workers bound for Taiwan. Through Sto. Tomas' insufferable penchant for selling OFWs at whatever cost, Filipinos in Taiwan are now bled dry by recruiters on top of the NT$5,000 wage cut impose by the Taiwan government in 2001.

The Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) urges President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to act for the scrapping of the Unified Contract and lobby the Saudi government to institutionalize protective mechanisms for migrant workers in the Kingdom. We demand that the Philippine government, instead of being a party to giving slavery a modern face, provide the needed services for OFWs such as negotiating for higher and on-time payment of wages, shelter for male and female stranded workers, and speedy repatriation for OFWs in distress.

Finally, if Secretary Sto. Tomas is so eager to keep her hands off her responsibility of protecting OFWs, we are more than eager to see her completely off the office that she has held so irresponsibly.#

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Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) c/o Kowloon Union Church No. 4 Jordan Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR Telephone: (852) 2723-7536 Fax: (852) 2735-4559 E-mail: apmm@hknet.com

"We dream of a society where families are not broken up by urgent need for survival. We dream and will actively work for a homeland where there is opportunity for everyone to live a decent and humane life."
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