MANILA: A day after more than 400 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) were prevented from leaving for Saudi Arabia due to ambiguity over who would bear the costs for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tests and quarantine measures upon their arrival in the Kingdom, the Philippine government said on Saturday that the deployments had been resumed.
“The temporary suspension of deployment to the Kingdom is hereby lifted,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a statement.
He added that the Saudi government had assured the Philippines that “foreign employers and agencies will shoulder the costs of institutional quarantine and other COVID-19 protocols upon arrival in the KSA.”
The Saudi Embassy in Manila also confirmed the development with a post on Twitter, expressing the Saudi “government’s keenness to protect departing workers from the costs of precautionary protocols.”
On Friday, hundreds of Saudi-bound Filipino workers — unaware of the suspension order issued by the labor department on Thursday afternoon — found themselves stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the capital region, Metro Manila.
Cielo Villaluna, a spokesperson for the Philippine Airlines, said that 283 OFWs were stopped from boarding the Manila-Riyadh flight, while 120 were not accepted on its Manila-Dammam flight.
Bello said that after the Kingdom’s assurance, he had advised the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration to immediately lift the ban on deployment and provide the necessary clearance to all OFWs traveling to the Kingdom.
“I understand that the suspension order drew confusion and irritation among our affected departing OFWs. Again, I apologize for the inconvenience and momentary anguish that it may have caused our dear OFWs. It was in the best interest of our OFWs that such a decision had to be made,” he added.
In a radio interview on Saturday, Bello explained that he was compelled to order the temporary deployment ban to “protect the OFWs” after learning about Saudi quarantine rules whereby OFWs needed to be tested and quarantined for 10 days after arrival at the cost of $3,500 each.
“That’s fine with me if that is their protocol there, but it’s not clear who will pay for it? ... I was told that the employer would shoulder the cost, but where is the order?” Bello said.
For clarification on the matter, Bello said he spoke with Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Abdullah Al-Bussairy on Friday night and asked the Saudi government to ensure employers bear the COVID-19 expenses for the OFWs. He received a notification from the Saudi government on Saturday morning, mandating foreign employers to shoulder the COVID-19 costs for all OFWs upon arrival.
Bello assured the OFWs who were not allowed to leave on Friday that his office would provide all necessary assistance, including the “extension of their travel documents and re-booking of their flights.”
Meanwhile, he also spoke about a similar issue faced by OFWs in Qatar, who were required to pay $3,500 for COVID-19 tests and quarantine costs.
“The moment I get a formal notice, I will do the same [as the labor department did in the case of Saudi-bound OFWs],” Bello said.