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IRAQ: Filipino Labor Dispute 'Temporarily Resolved'

A labor strike by some 300 Filipinos employed at Camp Cook in the Iraqi province of Taji who were protesting poor working conditions has been "temporarily resolved.” The workers are under contract with Prime Projects International and Kellogg Brown and Root.

by Christine O. Avendaño and Jerome AningInquirer News Service
May 28th, 2005

MALACAÑANG yesterday said the situation at a United States military camp in Iraq involving Filipino workers who had gone on strike to protest poor working conditions had been "temporarily resolved.”

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye did not say how the matter had been resolved but in a text message, he said Chargé d'Affaires Eric Endaya had gone to the US military camp and "as a result of his mediation, the workers called off [their] protest.”

"The President is closely monitoring the issue and she is satisfied that through the intercession of [Endaya], the situation has been temporarily resolved,” Bunye also said in a statement.

Bunye said the rights and welfare of the workers was the government's "utmost concern.”

"They [workers] can rest assured the government will always be there to help,” he said.

Some 300 Filipinos employed at Camp Cook in the Iraqi province of Taji went on strike last week after complaining about working conditions. The workers also asked for more protection from the heat and cold, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The DFA said Endaya was able to convince the leaders of the strike to end their protest and return to work by promising to take up their grievances and concerns with their employers.

The workers are under contract with Prime Projects International (PPI) and Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), manpower and logistics providers for the US military bases there.

A militant migrants' group, meanwhile, urged the government to issue a strong diplomatic protest over the treatment of OFWs by US companies in Iraq.

At the same time, Migrante chair Connie Bragas-Regalado congratulated the 300 OFWs for staging the strike to protest their working conditions.

The OFWs had complained of delayed wages, long working hours, unsatisfactory food and inadequate accommodations. They were later joined by 500 workers from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

"President Arroyo must command her diplomatic officials to issue the appropriate diplomatic rebuke to the US government for the treatment suffered by Filipinos under PPI and KBR," Regalado said. "This shows the disdainful attitude of US companies toward OFWs, who already are among the lowest paid expatriate workers in Iraq."

Migrante also criticized the "cautious" moves of the DFA because they "only aim to defuse the labor dispute between the Filipino workers and the two US companies."

"Again, the statements from Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo show that the Philippine government's concern for OFWs' rights and well-being in Iraq is non-existent," Regalado said.

In Manila, the OFWs' subcontractor, Anglo-European Placement Services Inc., said the situation at Camp Cook had normalized.

"The workers have returned to their jobs," AESPI vice president for operations Nicky Arcilla told reporters.

"Chargé d'Affaires Endaya helped and facilitated the negotiations for the return of the workers," he added.

Arcilla, however, did not give details of the agreement.

The OFWs had gone to Iraq in 2003 and early 2004 before the Philippine government imposed a ban on their deployment.

Regalado said that in Iraq, workers from Western countries earned hundreds of dollars a day, while workers from Third World countries like the Philippines usually got only a few hundred dollars a month.

The Philippines has around 6,000 workers mostly doing construction, catering, maintenance and housekeeping work in US military and coalition installations in Iraq.





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