NEW YORK – Aptly named Damayan, which means “to help each other,” Damayan Migrant Workers Association’s mission is to help kababayans by educating and empowering low-wage Filipino workers to fight for their rights.
Members from the New York and New Jersey area undergo a program called “workers academy,” which is a four-part workshop series on worker’s rights and skills.
Damayan Community Organizer Riya Ortiz said, “Open siya sa lahat ng Damayan members, most especially doon sa mga members namin na meron bagong kaso – so meaning yung may mga stolen wages, mga trafficking survivors, yung mga trinaffic ng diplomats or mga placement agencies…”
Members are mostly OFW’s who came to the US via H2B seasonal, low-skilled workers’ visas or A3 diplomatic visas for domestic workers.
The first step: Members get to share their stories of migration.
Ortiz said, “Dahil sa kahirapan, saka kawalan ng trabaho sa Pilipinas, tinulak sila na mag-migrate di ba, so hindi lang yan kuwento ng isa, kwento yan ng lahat ng Pilipino.”
Ilocos Sur native, Polly is one of these workers.
He came to the US in 2008 with an H2B seasonal workers visa to work as a waiter for a golf club in Upstate New York.
His employers was promised him $10 dollars an hour, full-time work, with free housing and free transportation to and off from work.
He spent nearly $5,000 in placement and training fees to become an Overseas Filipino Worker, leaving behind his wife and kids.
Polly said, “Dun sa kontrata na i-prinisinta nila, baliktad lahat yun, ang nangyari marami kami sa bahay, ang transportation — naglalakad kami, nag-isyu sila ng bisikleta pero babayaran naming yun.”
Unaware of his rights as a worker in a foreign country, he said he continued to work for less than $5 an hour, with no overtime pay and he was even charged $520 per month for housing.
“Napakahirap, minsan, naghahangad tayo ng kaginhawahan sa buhay, ang hangarin lang natin ay mapabuti ang ating pamilya, minsan ang kapalit nito and kapalit ay sakripisyo, paghihirap at kung minsan minamalas ka, pagmamalupitan ka pa.”
He eventually overstayed his visa. Unable to go home, he missed the funeral of one of his kids.
“Mabigat, hanggang ngayon dala-dala ko pa rin yan,” Polly said, “May mga kapalit din eh, habang sa kawala ko sa kanila, eh napakahirap.”
With the help of Damayan Migrant Workers Academy Polly, together with 24 others, were able to file three cases of wage theft, six cases of human trafficking and 15 cases of fraud in labor contracts against their employers.
To date, Damayan has helped Filipino workers recover more than $700,000 in wage theft from more than 50 abusive employers.
Polly and this new batch of migrant Filipinos hope they too will receive the justice they say they deserve for being abused as foreign workers.