-By Don Tagala
WOODSIDE, NY — A campaign to stop trafficking and end slavery of Filipino workers called “Justice for Grand Isle Shipyard Filipino Workers,” was launched in New York Wednesday yesterday.
Filipino workers and the family of a victim of the recent oil rig platform explosion in the Gulf Coast are speaking out for over 70 overseas Filipino workers who filed a class action lawsuit in November 2011 against their employer‚ Grand Isle Shipyard and recruiter, DNR Offshore and Crewing Services, among other defendants.
Grand Isle Shipyard is a Louisiana-based company supplying labor to oil companies in the Gulf Coast. It has employed Filipino welders, pipefitters and scaffolders.
Ann Beryl Corotan of the Philippine Forum said, “We would like to acknowledge the Philippine Government’s inaction in response to these distressed migrants. To President Aquino, we demand that you genuinely provide support to these workers. Investigate Grand Isle Shipyard and the D&R.” Ricardo Ramos, a former welder of Grand Isle shipyard says he left his employer 10 months ago because he and others allegedly suffered work place abuses.
The class action lawsuit accuses Grand Isle shipyard of discrimination, trafficking, slavery, wage theft and fraud.
Court record shows that the Filipino guest workers were promised at least $16 per hour but allegedly got paid only $5 per hour.
Ramos said that they were promised airfare to the U.S., housing and food and guest worker visas, valid for five years that would eventually lead to permanent residency.
But Ramos says they were assigned to a bunk house, with four persons to a room and were charged from $2,000 to $3,000 per month per person.
According to the lawsuit the rent was automatically deducted from their paychecks without their consent.
Ramos says this was not the case for Caucasian workers who were allegedly given preferential treatment as well as higher pay.
Alleged victim and former employer Ricardo Ramos said, “Kaya naisipan kong umalis sa kumpanya, para naman maipaglaban ko yung karapatan ko. Kaya nga nananawagan ako dun sa mga kasama ko sa Grand Isle Shipyard at DNR na sana mamulat ang kanilang mga mata sa katotohanan. Ipaglaban naman nila ang kanilang karapatan bilang Pilipino.”
Another alleged victim Ferdinand Garcia said,
“Ako po yung isa sa walong nagreklamo na humingi ng tulong sa gubyerno pero hanggang sa kasalukuyan po walang nangyari.”
In an e-mail to Balitang America, the Philippine Embassy denies inaction in the case of the Filipino workers in Louisiana.
Ambassador Jose Cuisia said the Philippine Embassy was aware of the Filipino workers’ problems as early as 2010, when they met with eight Filipino offshore workers.
Cuisia said that the embassy remains in contact with the workers’ legal counsel Attorney Ellaine Carr.
Cuisia said he even met twice with Filipino workers in Louisiana last November and assured them of assistance should they have any complaints against Grand Isle Shipyard.
But up to now, the embassy has not received a single call or email from any of the workers, Cuisia said.
Community leader Julia Camagong of International Migrants Alliance said, “They did not do anything
to investigate the operations of GIS, and DNR Resources in the Philippines, because in November
2012, three workers had to die in the black Elk Platform. We are demanding that
Cuisia resign because he did not perform his responsibility to protect the rights and welfare of the Filipino migrants in the U.S.”
Cuisia said the Philippine Embassy continues to provide guidance to the families especially in ensuring that they receive all the benefits that are due them.