Monday, March 20, 2017
KALIBO, Aklan – A distressed Aklanon restaurant worker in Saudi Arabia has finally returned to the Philippines after spending time in jail in the foreign country.
Bernie Zaradulla, a 34-year-old native of Barangay Alas-as, Madalag town, was deported back to his home country on March 14. He arrived in Aklan four days later.
Zaradulla started working as a sandwich maker in a restaurant in Hafar al Batin on March 26 last year. He and two fellow Filipino workers left their jobs by Sept. 5 after their employer failed to pay their monthly wages.
“We were paid well in the first three months,” he said in Filipino. “But the restaurant started losing income when another restaurant opened nearby. By the fourth and sixth months, we were no longer paid in full.”
According to Zaradulla, they were forced to work more than eight hours a day without rest day and overtime pay.
“I don’t regret and I’m not ashamed we left our employer,” he said. “We would be working for nothing if we stayed. Our employer would find reasons to make cuts in our salaries every time the pay day neared.”
Claiming they were deprived of proper compensation, the overseas Filipino workers sought help from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Riyadh, a five-hour drive from Hafar al Batin.
“Meantime we looked for part-time jobs to sustain our everyday needs and send home some money,” Zaradulla said.
Just this January, they decided to pursue a case against their employer with the help of the POLO in Riyadh.
The Philippine agency ordered the Filipino workers’ employment agency to hold the processing of papers until the latter were paid their back wages. The workers and the employment agency agreed that they be paid a two months’ worth of salary, but to no avail.
Their employer also asked for 16,000 riyals in exchange for their release, but the workers denied owing him any amount, Zaradulla said.
On Feb. 19, the workers returned to Hafar al Batin to file a case against their employer with the police.
They did not know their employer filed a “horrob,” or runaway, complaint against them with the police, and officers were out to arrest them. They were taken to the station and later detained at the Dammam deportation center.
“We were set up,” said Zaradulla. “But we bought a cell phone from the food server at the center and called our family and the authorities in secret.” He said they were in the center for two weeks.
In the second week of March, the wife of Zaradulla’s coworker sought help from Ben Tulfo, host of the investigative and public service broadcast program “Bitag.”
Tuflo sought help from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration on March 10. Two days later, officials of the POLO Alkhobar processed the workers’ release papers. The workers were deported to the Philippines around 10 p.m. on March 14. (Aklan Forum Journal/PN)