Labor chief tags report of 20,000 stranded OFWs as ‘fake news’

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 16) — Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III has dismissed claims that there are 20,000 stranded Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) bound for Saudi Arabia, adding that the number is much lower.

Hindi naman ganun karami. Malaki na kung mayroong 1,000 o 2,000. Fake news ‘yan,” he said in an interview with CNN Philippines’ Tristan Nodalo on Monday.

[They are not that many. One thousand or two thousand is already big. That’s fake news.]

The Labor department suspended the deployment of OFWs in the Middle Eastern country in 2021 after reports that 11,000 OFWs have not been paid for their services for two years.

READ: DOLE orders temporary OFW deployment ban to Saudi Arabia

The ban is still in effect, said Bello, but stressed it only applies to new hires.

Kailangan siguraduhin natin ‘yung mga (migrant) workers natin hindi magiging biktima ng mga false recruitment agencies,” he said.

[We need to make sure that our migrant workers will not be victimized by false recruitment agencies.]

He also vowed not to deploy OFWs until payment has been made to the workers.

“Five years, magsi-six years na, despite all their commitment, sabi babayaran hanggang ngayon hindi nababayaran. Paano magpadala doon kung ganyan ang ginagawa sa ating mga kababayan,” he added.

[It’s been five years, almost six. Despite all their commitment to pay, they have paid nothing. How can we deploy our workers there if that’s what they do to our fellow Filipinos?]

Meanwhile, Bello reiterated that the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) cannot impose policies.

In late April, DMW Secretary Abdulla Mama-o’s order supposedly lifting the deployment ban brought confusion, but DOLE maintained it is still in effect.

READ: Saudi deployment ban still in effect — DOLE

“Executive Secretary (Salvador) Medialdea already came up with a statement that the designated secretary ng [of] DMW has no authority to come up with directives or orders,” Bello stressed.

He added that the DMW Secretary is only responsible for coming up with the new department’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR), staffing pattern, and budget.