IRAQ: Filipino Workers Protest Working Conditions Under KBR

Some 300 Filipinos employed by Prime Projects International and Kellogg, Brown & Root, went on strike this week to protest poor working conditions.

Some 300 Filipinos employed at a US military camp in Iraq went on strike this week to protest poor working conditions, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said yesterday.

The workers, under contract with Prime Projects International (PPI) and Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), are based at Camp Cooke in the province of Taji, the DFA said.

KBR is a subsidiary of Halliburton Companies, which was once headed by US Vice President Dick Cheney.

It was not specified what their complaints were, but the foreign office said the Filipinos and the agencies that employed them failed to agree on certain demands, prompting the strike.

The Filipinos were to have been repatriated amid the deadlock, but Philippine chargé d'affaires Ricardo Endaya managed to convince them to hold a dialogue instead and temporarily return to their posts.

KBR manages non-combat related operations of military installations in Iraq, while Prime Projects recruits Filipino workers for them.

Endaya reported that at least 500 workers from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal joined the strike led by the Filipino workers.

Despite a travel ban to Iraq, the Philippines is the biggest supplier of manpower for US-led coalition forces, with DFA records indicating that about 6,000 Filipinos are working in various camps.

In his report, Endaya said PPI held talks with the 300 overseas Filipino workers, but added the talks remained deadlocked. As a result of the deadlock, the company said it is ready to prepare the return of the OFWs to the Philippines aboard two chartered flights via Dubai International Airport.

Endaya met with the 300 OFWs in Camp Cooke and convinced them to end their labor dispute and return to work.

The OFWs agreed to return to work yesterday while Endaya was discussing the issues raised by the workers with PPI and KBR. Endaya also took note of the OFWs' grievances and concerns in order to raise these matters with PPI and KBR officials.

KBR manages the non-combat related operations of US military installations, while PPI supplies KBR with manpower.

The Filipino workers' complaints have been brought to the attention of the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency by the DFA, which is coordinating with the POEA to find ways to address the labor problem.

The Philippine government has called on all OFWs in Iraq to consider immediate repatriation due to the worsening security situation there.

The withdrawal of OFWs from Iraq would greatly affect the operations of the US military camps there, as OFWs make up the largest number of foreign workers in these military facilities.

DFA Secretary Alberto Romulo said recent events have shown that the threat to the safety and lives of OFWs in Iraq is even greater after two Filipinos were reportedly killed there last month.

Guard and driver Marcelo Salazar Jr. died on April 14 in a vehicular accident - a death Endaya learned about only when he went to Camp Victory to arrange for the repatriation of Salazar's remains.

No reason was given as to why the camp did not immediately inform the Philippine embassy in Baghdad of Salazar's death.

The government last year banned travel to Iraq and brought home its token contingent serving with coalition forces after a Filipino truck driver was kidnapped.

Angelo de la Cruz was later freed and the incident caused a diplomatic tiff between the Philippines and the United States.

The fate of another Filipino hostage, Robert Tarongoy, remains unknown after he was seized by Iraqi militants in November last year.

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