Overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Elizabeth Hernandez has trekked different parts of the globe. It’s all thanks to her royal employer from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), whom she has worked for for almost 20 years.
“Nag-start ako mag-apply 2002, yung time na as in walang-wala kami, kaya parang ito na yung paraan para mas mabilis para sa akin [mag-ipon] (I started applying back in 2002, the time that we had nothing, as in nothing, which was why this became my plan to earn quickly),” Hernandez explainedon July 4, in an episode of Dapat Alam Mo! (lit. “You Should Know!” in English).
Hernandez, originally a local electronics expert from San Pablo, Laguna, works as a personal assistant for an unnamed Saudi Arabian princess. According to her, she is not allowed to disclose the identity of her employer.
In addition to getting bags and shoes, and having her home in the Philippines built, Hernandez got the chance to travel to Austria, Dubai, Jeddah, London, New York, Paris, and Switzerland. Hernandez also saves her allowance, which she then sends to her daughter Jazline and unnamed husband back in the Philippines.
Prior to her, fellow OFW Salvador Esguerra, Jr. also shared about getting the royal treatment. After leaving the Philippines in 2017, the Binmaley, Pangasinan native found work as a personal nurse to a Saudi Arabian prince (whose name is also under wraps).
Although he works for 12 hours daily, Esguerra (a husband and father of two) explained that there really is not much else for him to do besides sitting and waiting for his employer to call him. He also traveled to Dubai and London, as well as Barcelona, Egypt, Germany, and Monaco and having cruised in other places.
Working overseas is not as easy as it sounds, however, with Esguerra saying in an earlier statement that “nakapahirap ang [pagiging] isang OFW na malayo sa pamilya pero gagawin ko hangga’t makakaya ko para sa pamilya ko. Nandyan ang homesickness pero need mag-ipon at mag-invest, dahil hindi habang buhay ang pag a-abroad.”
(It’s hard to be an OFW if you are far from your family, but I will do everything for them for as long as I can. Homesickness is there, but we need to earn and invest, because working abroad is not a permanent solution.)
The “lucky” few
(Trigger warning: This section contains mentions of sexual and workplace abuse)
While Esguerra and Hernandez got lucky with their jobs, other OFWs in Saudi Arabia live lives far from fairy tales.
In 2004, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented different cases of women workers (including those from the Philippines) being discriminated for their gender, overworked, underpaid, and/or sexually abused. Interviewees even recalled being trapped or isolated in their workplaces, which the group said made them vulnerable to abuse from their employers.
Things haven’t gotten better since then, with women OFWs claiming to have dealt with various forms of abuse and violence from their employers. Although labor reforms were implemented in March 2021, HRW lamented how such changes “[did] not go far enough to dismantle the abusive kafala (visa sponsorship) system,” which they said gave employers “excessive [legal and mobilizing] power” over the overseas workers.
Also in 2021, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) ordered a temporary deployment ban of OFWs to Saudi Arabia. At the time, the agency got word that 9,000 returning workers suffered from almost P4.6 billion in unpaid wages, in addition to further reports of employer abuse.
While about 20,000 workers bound for KSA were stranded in the Philippines (as of May of this year) and recruitment agencies struggled due to the ban, Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) chief Susan “Toots” Ople is not in a rush to lift it. Instead, she planned to ensure the welfare of OFWs first through new employment guidelines.
Reuben Pio Martinez is a news writer who covers stories on various communities and scientific matters. He regularly tunes in to local happenings. The views expressed are his own.
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