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Polo gets flak for passing on refund claims to POEA without telling workers

06 July 2021

By Vir B. Lumicao

Thousands of OFWs in HK have filed claims for training fee refund in Polo

The Philippine Overseas Labor Office has come under fire over its alleged irregular practice of forwarding refund claims by overseas Filipino workers to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration in Manila without prior notice to claimants.

This came as Assistant Labor Attache Antonio Villafuerte disclosed today, Jul 6,that Polo has recommended the preventive suspension of more than five recruitment agencies in Manila that “numerous” OFWs have accused of charging them illegal training fee.


Villafuerte said that in these cases, the agencies were the subject of complaints from more than 10 workers. He said the move is taken to stop the agencies from preying on more applicants.

Kasi, kung dito ang conciliation, tuloy pa rin ang pambibiktima ng mga agency sa Manila,” Villafuerte said. (The reason is, if the conciliation is held here, the agencies in Manila will continue victimizing other jobseekers.)

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He said that apart from these cases, also referred to POEA are those where conciliation has failed, or those nearing expiration, to prevent them going to naught.

Workers who are in Hong Kong may execute a power of attorney in favor of someone who could represent them at the hearing, Villafuerte said.


Because of the pandemic, he said POEA is also considering online conciliation meetings via Zoom to allow the worker to directly participate in the hearing, even if he or she is far from Metro Manila, where most of the complaints are heard.

Villafuerte says claims are forwarded to POEA when there are numerous complainants

But migrant leaders are not buying into this explanation, saying referring the case to POEA without any attempt to settle the case in Hong Kong is highly irregular.

Dolores Balladares, chair of Unifil Migrante Hong Kong, said this is a blatant mishandling of the complaints filed by the workers, who want an explanation from Polo as to why this is happening.


“Una, kinokendena namin ang kabagalan at aksyon nila na walang impormasyon sa mga biktima. Hindi totoo na yung malapit ng mag-expire ang kaso ang ini-endorse nila sa POEA, may mga kaso na 2019 at 2020 at 2021 nga, na-endorse na sa POEA,” said Balladares. (First, we condemn the sluggishness and their act of not informing the victims. It’s not true that the cases they endorsed to POEA are about to expire; there are 2019, 2020 and 2021 cases that they have endorsed to POEA.)

Balladares said the core problem now is Polo didn’t tell the victims about endorsing their cases to the Philippines, so they were surprised when they got summonses from Manila.

Secondly, she said Polo is not following the conciliation process, which calls for the victim and the agency to meet up to three times to try and settle their differences, before the case is passed on to POEA.

Another problem encountered by worker-complainants was that they were charged notarization fee for the special power of attorney they needed to send a representative to the POEA hearing, said Balladares.

Finally, she said no one answers calls to the Polo hotline.

In some cases, she said the workers have complained of being harassed by their agencies who want the claims against them dropped.

“Meron kaming kaso bukas, may conciliation sa Polo, hina-harass ng agency ang biktima, pati employer tinatawagan,” she said. (We have a conciliation case at Polo tomorrow. The agency is harassing the victim and is even calling her employer.)

Balladares insists all conciliation hearings should be done in Hong Kong, and only when the parties fail to settle their differences should the case be forwarded to POEA, with due notice to both sides.

Thousands of workers have filed claims for a refund after Labor Attaché Melchor Dizon said last year that agencies were illegally requiring outbound domestic helpers to undergo training, even if POEA does not require this.

It is not immediately clear how many of the claims have been resolved or passed on to POEA for settlement.
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