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Agencies should not force OFWs to undergo training, Labatt says anew

07 December 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap 

Dizon (in pink shirt) with his key officers and the Filcom leaders

Labor Attache Melchor Dizon has reiterated that recruitment agencies cannot compel overseas Filipino workers to undergo training as this violates the  Philippine Overseas Employment Administration 2016 Rules. 

Labatt Dizon made the clarification during a meeting requested by Filipino community  leaders mostly coming from the group, Rage, or Rise Against Government Exactions, to get answers related to the training fee issue.

Rage leader Dolores Balladares-Pelaez said OFWs welcomed the reopening of the training fee issue as it has long been a sticking point with many newcomers, who mostly complain of being charged excessively for something that hardly benefits them.

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Asked for an update on the claims filed by about 170 OFWs to recover the training fees charged them, Labatt Dizon said his office had already begun scheduling conciliating meetings between the workers and their agencies.

But he warned that Polo could only mediate and not adjudicate or render judgment on the complaints. “Bawal magbigay ng opinyon sa conciliation, dapat nasa middle ka lang,” he said.( We're forbidden from giving an opinion, we should just stay in the middle).

If conciliation fails, he said the case will be endorsed to POEA for further action.

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He also reminded the leaders that complaints should be filed within three years under Philippine labor laws.

“Kapag hindi mo na i-file sa loob ng 3 years, hindi na pwedeng mahabol,” said Dizon.

The latest that a complainant could file a case is no later than one month before the end of the prescription period, he said. That will give his office enough time to forward the original complaint to the POEA for docketing.

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He said it is the docketing in POEA that will stop the three-year time bar from running.

Thus, he was surprised to learn on assuming the post of labor attaché that an amount had been pre-set for the training fee that agencies in the Philippines could collect from the OFWs they deploy to Hong Kong.

Dizon gave a background of the 2016 Rules, which he said was an offshoot of an agreement between the POEA and the recruiters to define what constituted overcharging. He said he was a director at POEA at the time so he was part of the talks.

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It was in this context that he expressed an opinion during a zoom meeting with the agencies earlier this year that domestic workers must not be required to undergo training, and if they are required as such, it is the employer who must bear the cost.

Dizon did a power point presentation of relevant POEA Rules 

That prompted Alfredo Palmiery, head of the Society of Hong Kong Accredited Recruiters of the Philippines (Sharp), to write to POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia to seek his opinion on the issue.

Dizon distributed copies of Olalia’s letter-response to Palmiery dated Jun 19 this year, in which the prohibition against compelling OFWs to undergo and pay for training, is explained succinctly.

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In the letter, Olalia cited Sec 76 of the 2016 POEA Rules which explicitly states that a recruitment agency commits an act constituting illegal recruitment if it requires an OFW to undergo training in a specified center or institution.

The same section provides that the cost of “recommendatory trainings mandated by principals (employers) should be shouldered by said employers.

Another section of the law cited by Olalia provides that administrative sanctions should be imposed on a licensed recruitment agency that commits such a violation.

OFWs undergoing training they paid for at an elderly home 

Dizon pointed to parts of Olalia’s letter enumerating costs chargeable to OFWs, including the Tesda certificate of competency (NCII).

However, the leaders said the POEA Rules do not specifically say the items listed, including for passport, birth certificate, and others, should be paid to the agency, because in reality, such costs are paid directly to the government agencies concerned.

Janette Carnay of Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge said no OFW would agree to undergo training if there was no law that compels them to do so. Thus, the question of whether the worker had volunteered to undergo training or not should not even be an issue.

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The leaders also said the failure to stop agencies from collecting illegal fees had spawned a lot of malpractices, including forcing an OFW who still has a valid NCII to undergo training again, to submit themselves to repeated medical examinations, or take out a loan to pay for their placement.

Marites Palma of Social Justice for Migrant Workers, said she was even told to undergo pre-departure orientation seminar again even if she had already worked for years in Hong Kong and was just moving to a new employer

In the end, she said she just agreed to pay a small amount so she could skip the redundant seminar.

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