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Illegal recruiters know no pandemic, continue to prey on OFWs

By: - Content Researcher Writer / @inquirerdotnet
/ 02:35 PM November 12, 2021
MAY 01, 2018 Job seekers flock at Quezon City Hall for Labor Day Job Fair. INQUIRER PHOTO/ JAM STA ROSA

MAY 01, 2018 Job seekers flock at Quezon City Hall for Labor Day Job Fair. INQUIRER PHOTO/ JAM STA ROSA

(Part two)

MANILA, Philippines—Despite travel restrictions due to the COVID pandemic, which led to the mass repatriation of overseas Filipino workers (OFW), illegal, unethical, and unfair recruitment continued to thrive in the Philippines.

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These practices have victimized many hopeful migrant workers, who had been looking overseas for hope and jobs they can’t find at home.

Illegal, unethical, unfair practices

The Philippines, according to International Organization for Migration (IOM) chief of mission Kristin Dadey, is one of the top labor-sending countries worldwide.

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The exodus of Filipinos trying to secure better career opportunities overseas, unfortunately, also opened the door to illegal recruiters with only one ruthless objective—deceive, extract money and leave jobseekers with empty promises.

According to Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) director Levinson Alcantara, there are three different classifications of recruitment violations —serious offenses, less serious offenses, and light offenses.

“Serious offenses are those that actually reflect, resonate very strongly against principles of ethical and fair recruitment,” Alcantara explained.

Graphics by Ed Lustan

Some practices which are considered as serious offenses by the POEA were:

  • Knowingly deploying a minor.
  • Gross misrepresentation for the purpose of securing recruitment license — a violation of the Anti-Dummy Law.
  • Reprocessing by documenting workers through a job order, which pertains to (1) non-existing work, (2) different positions, (3) different principal.
  • Transfer or change of ownership or control of a single proprietorship licensed to engage in overseas employment.
  • Collection of placement fees where the country of destination does not allow its collection.
  • Collection of fees greater than the schedule of allowable placement fees.
  • Passing on fees to workers chargeable to the principal.
  • Deploying workers whose employment and travel documents were not processed by the POEA.
  • Allowing a non-Filipino citizen to head or manage the agency, with tasks like controlling or supervising operations, hiring or firing employees, laying down, and executing management policies.

Less serious offenses acknowledged by the agency were:

  • Deploying a worker below the minimum age requirement — which, according to Alcantara, “would mean differently for different kinds of workers.”
  • Charging or collecting money, goods, or services before employment is obtained.
  • Non-issuance of official receipt for payment collected from the applicant.
  • Misrepresentation in recruitment and placement; including publication of false notice, info, or document.
  • Alteration or substitution of POEA-approved contract.
  • Withholding or denying release of travel and other documents.
  • Engaging in recruitment activities in other places without securing Special Recruitment Authority (SRA).
  • Appointing representatives or employees without prior notice to the POEA.
  • Allowing participation of the foreign employer in recruitment activities without prior approval of the POEA.
  • Allowing disqualified persons, including those with a derogatory record, to participate in the affairs of the agencies.

Some of the light offenses, according to Alcantara, included:

  • Influencing a person to employ or not to employ a worker who has not applied through the agency or who has formed or supported a union or organization.
  • Failure to actually deploy a contracted worker within 60 days from the issuance of an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) without a valid reason.

Apart from these illegal and unethical recruitment practices, Alcantara said that there are some schemes that keep popping up on social media platforms.

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Some of these schemes, according to the anti-illegal recruitment branch of POEA, were text schemes, online household worker recruitment, travel and tours scams, and direct hiring that does not seek exemption from the prohibition of the Labor Code.

“These advertisements proliferate on Facebook, they make use of the logo of the POEA. They entice victims with seemingly legitimate offers but are actually nonexistent jobs for the unknowing clients,” he said.

“There are scams also that start with dating apps and one that ends up in the offer of travel and a possibly better life abroad which includes: better-paying jobs,” he added.

Slowly increasing cases

As illegal recruitment scams circulate online, the POEA has monitored cases of illegal, unethical, and unfair recruitment practices.

Graphics by Ed Lustan

“There [was] a steady indication that even during the time of COVID-19, illegal, unethical, and unfair ways of recruitment have continued,” Alcantara said.

“There was a decline between 2019 and 2020 but ideally, when people are not moving and people cannot go anywhere, the expectation was there will be zero [incidents],” he added, referring to cases recorded by the POEA Legal Assistance Division (LAD).

Figures from the POEA showed that the number of legal advice offered by the POEA LAD to applicant workers has rocketed in 2021, outnumbering those which were offered between 2019 and 2020 by 258 percent and 87 percent.

Below are the data presented by the POEA, showing the total number of services offered by POEA LAD, addressing the illegal, unethical, and unfair recruitment cases in 2018 and 2019 and the ten months of 2021.

  • Assistance in the preparation of complaints against licensed agencies for recruitment violation: 770 (2019), 218 (2020), 148 (January to October 2021)
  • Referral for conciliation: 7,450 (2019), 2,731 (2020), 2,066 (January to October 2021)
  • Assistance in the preparation of complaints about disciplinary action against worker: 178 (2019), 30 (2020), 33 (January to October 2021).
  • Assistance in the preparation of complaints on disciplinary action against the employer: 1,446 (2019), 353 (2020), 103 (January to October 2021).
  • Legal advice: 7,088 (2019), 13,587 (2020), 25,425 (January to October 2021)

Easing travel restrictions in the Philippines and other countries coincided with the increasing number of docketed cases of illegal, unethical, and unfair recruitment cases from January to October this year.

  • Cases of recruitment violation: 1,108 (2019), 453 (2020), 721 (January to October 2021)
  • Cases of disciplinary action against worker: 1,475 (2019), 491 (2020), 687 (January to October 2021)
  • Cases of disciplinary action against employer: 1,626 (2019), 519 (2020), 399 (January to October 2021).
  • Total cases: 4,209 (2019), 1,463 (2020), 1,807 (January to October 2021).

The number of cases endorsed to the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the first 10 months of 2021 was also already equal to the total cases docketed in the DOJ in 2019–57 cases in total.

The total number of cases registered with DOJ in 2020 was only nine.

READ: OFW burden grows heavier as relief, justice fall through system gaps

Susan Ople, president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, shared a recent case involving five OFWs who were physically abused by a former Saudi general in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The licensed recruitment agencies, which were supposed to assist the abused domestic workers, failed to provide the correct name of the foreign employer in government-approved contracts.

The victims, according to Ople, were “already at high risk even prior to leaving the country because of the failure of both the licensed agencies and the government to verify the true identity of the Saudi employer.”

Penalties imposed

The POEA, according to Alcantara, has issued different penalties depending on the severity of the offenses.

For light serious offenses, the agency will impose the following penalties:

  • First offense: Two to six months suspension of license.
  • Second offense: Six months and one day to one year of suspension.
  • Third offense: One year and one day to two years of suspension.
  • Fourth offense: Cancellation of license.

For light offenses, violators could get the following penalties:

  • First offense: Reprimand.
  • Second offense: Fine of up to P20,000.
  • Third offense: One month to three months suspension of license.
  • Fourth offense onwards: Three months to six months suspension.

Adhere to fair, ethical recruitment

According to Alcantara, the POEA “tries as much as it can during the time of pandemic to be very active in surveillance but with the many platforms available for these scammers to launch their illegal activities, there’s actually a need for our partners to come in and help us, inform us of these illegal activities so we can take a look at them.”

The persistent and increasing cases of illegal, unethical, and unfair recruitment processes—which has often led to the abuse of the deployed Filipino workers overseas—even during the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed OFW groups to urge the country’s land-based recruitment industry to adhere to fair and ethical recruitment standards and principles.

“Our domestic workers rely on the sincerity and ability of their recruitment agencies in identifying the best employers for them. And if for some reason, their rights as workers are being violated, these workers need not beg their agencies to help them out,” said Ople in a statement.

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RELATED STORIES:

OFWs are back home, what now?

As OFWs come home, bigger risks add to their uncertain future

Women bear brunt of heightened risks for OFWs

Part one: National action plan emerging vs illegal recruitment

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TAGS:  Levinson Alcantara, COVID-19, DFA, domestic workers, Illegal Recruitment, INQFocus, International Organization for Migration, IOM, IOM Philippines, Migration, OFWs, Overseas Filipino Workers, Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, POEA, Susan Ople, Unethical recruitment
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