MANILA–Hundreds of overseas Filipino workers in New Zealand lost their jobs just before Christmas and are asking the Philippine government for continuing financial assistance as they look for new jobs this New Year.
About 720 Filipino construction workers were shocked to learn they were suddenly out of work last December 20 and have since greeted 2024 jobless and stranded abroad.
The workers were employed throughout New Zealand by labor contractor ELE Group that figured in a corporate collapse, surprising the entire country, especially its foreign workers.
Dennis Sarmiento, barely eight months as an aluminum fabricator in Hamilton City, said he was preparing to send money home to his family in General Trias, Cavite for the Christmas and New Year holidays when he received notice he could no longer go to work as the company was closing.
“We had no inkling the company was closing down. We were just told to no longer report for work,” Sarmiento told Kodao.
“I had to explain to my family back home our unexpected predicament. We spent the Christmas and New Year as beneficiaries of other OFWs and migrant rights organizations, finding ourselves without means to celebrate on our own,” he added.
Migrante-Aotearoa, among the first organizations to come to the aid of the beleaguered Filipinos called on the Philippine government to give immediate cash aid to the laid off OFWs.
“The closure of giant labor hire ELE Group has left hundreds of Filipino migrant workers in a state of uncertainty, grappling with the challenges of unemployment and financial instability during what should be a festive time of year,” the group said.
Migrante-Aotearoa said it sent a petition to the Philippine Embassy in Wellington asking to give financial aid within 48 hrs to assist OFWs in hardship.
“We know that emergency aid for OFWs is totally possible, if only the billions of pork barrel funds and confidential funds that have been pocketed and unaccounted for by the Philippines’ most corrupt politicians have been allocated to support OFWs and their families instead,” it said in a statement.
First Union secretary general Dennis Maga said their intervention compelled the Philippine government to offer the equivalent of Php30k to the beleaguered workers but have yet to receive information how many actually received the amount.
First Union also called on New Zealand authorities to allow and expedite the process of the jobless workers’ transfer to other employers so they spend as little time as unemployed migrants.
Unpaid wages and benefits of the laid off workers should also be paid, First Union added.
Over Christmas and New Year, Migrante-Aotearoa, Gabriela-Aotearoa, Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG), First Union, church organizations and migrant Filipinos distributed food packs to as many laid off OFWs as they could.
They also formed teams to assist the workers in navigating the maze of in-country job applications.
Sarmiento said he and ELE colleagues are grateful for the migrant rights activists and unions who act as their guardian angels in one of their saddest Christmases ever.
“I did not know anything about unions and activists before this ordeal. Now I know better and I thank them,” Sarmiento said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)