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PH agency group belies Labatt Dizon’s claim of no training fee for helpers

18 November 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao 

Labatt Dizon (far right) raised the training fee issue during a meeting at the Consulate

Employment agencies in the Philippines say it is not true that under the guidelines set down by the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, Filipino domestic workers should not pay any fees before they can go abroad and work.

The Society of Hong Kong Accredited Recruiters of the Philippines (Sharp) took exception to a statement made by Labor Attaché Melchor Dizon during a meeting with Filipino community leaders on Nov 11 that the training fee, which forms the bulk of an OFW’s pre-departure costs, is an illegal exaction.

Sharp sent a letter to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III dated Nov 13, in which it expressed concern over Dizon’s statement as reported by The SUN, saying it “may just create confusion in the market because it is incomplete and partially inaccurate.”

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In the meeting with Filcom leaders, Dizon said that training is not required under the POEA rules. If the employer wants the worker to be trained, they should pay for it.

He also said the training fee creates an opportunity for agencies to refer the worker to lending firms, a practice which is illegal.

The question of training fee was raised during the meeting in which the problem over lack of food during quarantine by newly arrived OFWs was the main agenda.

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Asked what help could be extended to those who paid no less than Php 25,000 for the training before they were deployed to Hong Kong, the labor chief said they should not have been charged any fee at all.

“When I was the director of the POEA, yung household services package na iyon, wala sila talaga dapat babayaran na placement fee, kaya nga kami very strict na sa mga complaints na iyan...which resulted yung ganyang iba’t ibang cancellations…and my recommendation (was) to issue preventive suspension pending adjudications of some agencies,” Dizon said.

He said he asked POEA to act on it and followed it up and now action had been speeded up such that even the previous cases had now been docketed.

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“Sigurado ngayon, mababawasan na iyon (pending cases) meron kami kasing issue pa diyan, kasi I always raised na dapat walang training, it should not be required… it is not required under the POEA rules,” Dizon said.

He said there is a provision in the rules that state “if the employer requires training, it’s the employer who pays.”

The labor attaché said because of his position on training, “nag-issue na rin ang POEA ng opinion on that kasi kinukulit na rin sila ng mga agencies.”

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Sharp, which is headed by agency owner Alfredo Palmiery, said that while the group “totally agree and … fully comply with the Absolutely No Placement Fee policy” on domestic helpers, it is not true that the worker has no fees to pay.

Sharp's letter to Bello says it's not true OFWs should not pay any fees before deployment

The group cited Section 50, Rule V, Part II of the POEA rules that enumerate the fees and costs to be paid by the worker, such as passport fee, NBI/police/barangay clearance, NSO certified birth certificate, school transcript of records and diploma, duly authenticated professional license and Tesda certificate of competency.

Nowhere in this provision, however, does it states that the enumerated fees -most of which are not required of a migrant domestic worker - must be paid to the recruitment agency.

The letter went on to add that Sharp had asked POEA for a "legal clarification" on the issue of training fee, indicating that there was, indeed, an ambiguity over the matter.

Sharp said that in its reply dated June 19 this year, POEA made clear that a first-time worker may indeed, be required to undergo training "at the Training Centre of their choice and its costs may be shouldered by them, including the Tesda assessment fee."

All other references to the POEA reply actually made it clear that the recruiters should not be collecting any fees from the worker.

The second page of Sharp's letter makes no reference to any fees
being made directly to the agency by the worker

Asked for a comment, Thomas Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies, said local agencies are not affected by Dizon’s statement.

“Regarding the training fee, we understand the workers paid to certified training center in the Philippines and from a legal point of view, this has nothing to do with accredited agencies in the Philippines and HK agencies, of course. HK agencies do not have any role to play in the training program and collection of training fee,” Chan said.

“Though we understand POEA does regulate that an agency should not force workers to attend training courses, workers are paying for their own working skills that’s required by POEA before they are allowed to be employed and deployed overseas,” he said.

The training fee was introduced after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made it a state policy in 2002 to prohibit the payment of placement fees to recruitment agencies by Filipino migrant workers.

In not a few cases, OFWs have complained that the agencies sent them to pre-selected training schools where there was no actual training given but just videos to watch showing what the workers were expected to do.

The fees charged the workers also varied to between under, to well over Php20,000.

After training, the workers were sent to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for assessment, in which they paid another fee to ascertain whether they qualify for a national certificate, referred to as NC2.

Because of such requirements, OFWs who were all obliged to go through agencies before coming to Hong Kong, had paid for training and other fees.

It is not clear as of this writing how, or whether, Secretary Bello has responded to Sharp’s letter.

Meantime, several groups who have heard of Labatt Dizon’s surprise pronouncement are now planning to bring their members to Polo to file for a refund of the training fee they paid to their agencies in the Philippines.

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