The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has temporarily suspended the deployment overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to Saudi Arabia after reports that outbound OFWs were obliged to pay for their own coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) tests and other health safety measures.

Based on a memorandum addressed to Labor Undersecretary Bernard P. Olalia dated May 27 that was made public, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello ordered the suspension due to “reports that departing OFWs are being required by their employers/foreign recruitment agencies to shoulder the costs of the health and safety protocol for COVID-19 and insurance coverage premium upon their entry in the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia).”

The suspension of deployment is effective immediately and will be in place until further notice.

In a press briefing on Friday, the DOLE said that recruiters and employers requiring the OFWs to pay for their insurance premiums and health protocols violates the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s Memorandum Circular No. 1 series of 2021 which mandates that recruitment agencies and principals/employers of the OFWs should spend for these requirements.

The abrupt deployment suspension resulted in hundreds of OFWs who were en route to Saudi Arabia finding themselves stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1. Over 400 OFWs were not allowed to board their flights on Friday DOLE reported.

At the same briefing, Mr. Olalia said that the department is working to provide a resolution to the issue and is asking for clarification from Saudi Arabian authorities regarding the conflicting guidelines.

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) on Friday said it “regrets” that it could not accommodate 282 passengers who were supposed to board a flight from Manila to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

PAL said in a statement that it “did not receive official advice from the Philippine government regarding the prohibition on the entry into Saudi Arabia until further notice.” — Gillian M. Cortez