Saturday, March 2, 2013
LOUISIANA PINOY WORKERS' SUPPORTERS CLAMOR FOR CUISIA'S HEAD
A group fighting for Filipino oil rig workers in Louisiana is demanding the recall of Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. back to Manila over his alleged failure to help them.
The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), International Migrants Alliance-USA, and the National Guest-worker Alliance mounted a protest caravan last week to draw attention to the plight of about 70 workers who’ve sued their employer, Grand Isle Shipyards (GIS) over alleged wage violations and exploitation.
“These brave oil rig workers, trafficked from the Philippines, are standing up for their rights as workers, as migrants, and as human beings against slavery, trafficking, wage theft, fraud, and other forms of abuse, and exploitation - right here in our backyard,” declared NAFCON president Terry Valen.
The 21-car “Freedom Ride” drove through New Orleans to Lafitte, LA. bearing placards with demands that included justice for Filipino GIS workers, the end of slavery and trafficking of migrant workers, end “forced migration” from the Philippines and for Cuisia to resign.
Cuisia earlier criticized the “belated” support of these groups, pointing to the work done by consular officials to look after the aggrieved Filipinos.
“While we welcome their sudden interest and belated expression of concern for Filipino offshore oil workers in the Gulf of Mexico, Philippine Forum and other so-called solidarity groups should have first done their homework and get their facts straight before accusing us of indifference,” he said.
“This is an unfair assertion coming from a group that claims to represent the interests of our offshore oil workers,” he added. Cuisia said they were aware of the problems of the workers as early as 2010 when 8 of the Filipino workers met with Philippine officials before Filipino-American lawyer Ellaine Carr filed the complaint against GIS.
“We have no problems with Philippine Forum if it wants to publicize its involvement in this issue but it should not do this at the expense of the Philippine government.”
But at the Manila Village marker in front of the Lafitte town hall, Julia Camagong of the International Migrants Alliance-USA declared that “Unlike the Philippine government which has not done enough to address this issue, today is a sign of our commitment. We will not stop till justice is served for Filipino workers and all the exploited migrant workers here and around the world.”
Filipino contract workers have accused GIS of abusive and exploitative working conditions akin to slavery.
“In addition to being made to work under unsafe conditions, the migrant workers alleged that they were paid approximately $5 an hour for 10-14 hour days with no overtime. They were also deducted $1000- $3000 a month for employer housing that consisted of 4-6 workers sharing a single 10 feet by 10 feet room,” said Katrina Abarcar.
“Bunkhouse lockdowns, a 10:00 PM curfew, constant surveillance from security cameras, and limited communication with the outside world were also enforced. Workers also endured discriminatory practices from their employer such as restrictions on religious practices and threats of termination and deportation if workers failed to comply with their employer’s strict rules,” she added.
The group said the Nov. 16, 2012 Black Elk oil rig explosion in the Gulf Mexico that killed three Filipino workers, helped draw international attention to the “flagrant abuses and injustices they have suffered,” Abarcar said.
The crowd, estimated at 100 was greeted by Dr. Carmelo Astilla who created the inscription commemorating one of the first settlements in the US of Filipinos who escaped from forced labor aboard Spanish galleons.
Rev. Israel Alvaran, who gave a benediction, described the trip as a “pilgrimage where we remember those who have gone before us to fight for justice.”
“Today in 2013 we are still escaping slavery. We are still brave Filipinos, we are still proud Filipinos. It is through our organizing, our unity, and power across all communities that we will stop this from happening again,” NAFCON head Valen said.
The day was described by other supporters of the campaign such as Daniel Castellanos of the National Guestworker Alliance as “a day of unity – the day we united to defeat all bad employers like GIS.” According to Alfred Morshew of STAND with Dignity, he came out to support his Filipino brothers “because it is one system oppressing Filipinos and African Americans.”
The program ended with “Bayan Ko” led by Pendong and Chat of “Ang Grupong Pendong” and the release of 100 white balloons, symbolizing the more than 100 Filipino workers believed to still be working for GIS “under oppressive conditions who the conveners of the campaign hope to see freed”.
After the program, the caravan made an unplanned trip past a Grand Isle Shipyard site in Lafitte, and left placards with campaign slogans on the ground, including Filipinos Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAST), the newly formed workers organization in the area.
Their next stop will be Washington DC on March 17 that will include a public forum for the Washington DC., Maryland and Virginia community as well as a mobilization in front of the Philippine Embassy to demand Cuisia’s resignation.