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Filipino migrant workers demand return of 'illegal' training fees

20 November 2020

 By Vir B. Lumicao 

Palma (in white blouse) will bring some claimants to Polo this Sunday

A group of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong plan to go the Philippine Overseas Labor Office this Sunday, Nov 22, to ask for a refund of the training fee charged them by their employment agencies in the Philippines.

Their action follows Labor Attaché Melchor Dizon’s statement during a meeting with Filipino community leaders last week that agencies should not charge helpers for training because it is not in the rules of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

Labatt Dizon said that if the employer wants the worker to be trained, he or she must pay for the cost.

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Prompted by this pronouncement, the OFW group, Social Justice for Migrant Workers, decided to lead a number of newly arrived workers in filing claims for a refund of the money they paid their agencies for training and other fees.

 “Nagbabalak po kaming pupunta sa Polo sa Sunday. Sasamahan ko ang mga bago na nag-training at nagbayad ng malaki. Marami pong nagsabi na sasama sila,” said Marites Palma, the group’s founder.  

Many of the complainants say they paid their Philippine agencies between Php25,000 and Php105,000 for training which did not prove to be of much use to their work in Hong Kong.

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Among them is Cherry Anne Zerrudo, who paid Php37,000 for three weeks of training at Kimmy International Training and Testing Inc. (Kitti) in San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City in October 2019.

She was charged Php30,000 for the basic training and an extra Php7,000 for elderly care, but realized later on that her employer, who is 71, was feisty and strong, and did not need looking after.

Zerrudo said there were about 30 of them who were recruited by Novation Resources, their agency in Manila, and sent to training at Kitti, which provided them board and lodging.

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The center was so packed that Zerrudo said that she, along with a few trainees, had to sleep on the kitchen floor. They were also given only a small bowl of rice with a slice of fish or meat for each meal that many of them would rush out to buy food as soon as they finished training for the day.  

First week, pinag-aralan namin kung paano maglinis ng bahay ng Intsik. Noong second week, kung paano magplantsa, at noong third, kung paano maglaba, at paano magluto,” said Zerrudo.

At the time, Zerrudo had just returned from working for three years in Doha, Qatar, and was still in possession of a valid national certificate for competency or NC2, and should not have been made to undergo training again.

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But according to Zerrudo, her recruiter told her she needed to re-train as President Rodrigo Duterte had the NC2 replaced with another certificate.

Zerrudo paid Php30k plus Php7k to train for a certificate she didn't need

She said another OFW in her batch who just completed a contract in Malaysia was exempted from the general training but was told she needed to learn Chinese cooking all over again, and pay Php7,000.

Other workers who claimed they paid varying large fees to agencies for their training in the Philippines said they trained for skills that proved useless when they arrived in Hong Kong.

They said the fees were excessive for two weeks of supposed training that did not include learning to speak Cantonese or cook Chinese food.

“All they taught us was table setting which I found out was useless in Hong Kong because my employers would use just a bowl and chopsticks,” said one worker.

Some said they washed and ironed clothes of agency owners, training school operators or the trainors’ families. They said these were basic jobs they did at home. One said that aside from washing, she looked after the agency owner’s child as her supposed training was on child care.

Lyn Francisco said her training at TransAsia in Antipolo included surviving on little food because the trainees were reportedly told some Hong Kong employers would starve their workers. The center was in a three-storey building that also housed the family of the owner. 

Francisco says her training at TransAsia included surviving on little food 

“Naalala ko ang training namin, isang latang Hokkaido sardines, 2 pirasong papaya, 20 katao kakain. Grabe, talagang gutom. Breakfast, 1 pirasong tinapay tapos isang kaserolang kape hati-hatiin pa, yung tigkalahating baso lang kayo,” she said earlier, commenting on a report on The SUN about the controversial training.

“The trainees would do all the laundry of the trainor’s family, house cleaning and carwashing,” said Francisco, who arrived here on Dec 19, 2017. She said she was charged Php18,500 for the training but ended up paying $23,000 including her medical checkup.

“Yung ibang ka-batch namin, tig-Php30,000 ang training fee nila. Mga taga-Davao sila at yung iba, sa ibang part ng Mindanao,” she said.

Most agencies do not issue receipts for the workers’ payments, the helpers said. They said if the workers were told, “Kung ayaw nyo sumunod sa aming patakaran, huwag kayong mag-apply sa amin. Bakit, kayo lang ba ang applicant?”

The training fee scandal appears to have unsettled the recruitment industry in the Philippines as well as the agencies’ partners in Hong Kong

On Monday, Alfredo Palmiery, president of the Society of Hong Kong Accredited Recruiters of the Philippines (Sharp) will be having an online meeting with his member’s partners in the city.

Thomas Chan, president of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies, said the conference with Sharp will precede a meeting of local agencies with Labatt Dizon on Tuesday afternoon.

Sharp wrote a letter to Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Friday last week, seeking clarification on Dizon’s statement that training and other fees are not in the POEA rules and are thus illegal. 

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