Sunday, November 23, 2008

Filipino migrant teachers in US fighting illegal recruiter through blog

Press Release
November 23, 2008

A group of Filipino migrant teachers in Louisiana, US is battling their illegal recruiter and is organizing for the redress of their grievances using the blog as a tool. In early November, the “Concerned Filipino Migrant Teachers of Louisiana, USA” have been using what they called the Pinoy Teachers Hub (www.pinoyteachershub.blogspot.com) as a venue for discussion of their plight.

The teachers are accusing their recruitment agency, among others, of overcharging of placement fees and the premature collection of the same which is tantamount to illegal recruitment and a violation of Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995.

At least 200 teachers were placed through the agency and deployed in five different school districts in Louisiana but the bulk of them are in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. They were issued a 1-year working visa (H1B) instead of the usual 3-year H1B visa.

Their recruitment agency is the PARS International Placement Agency with a Philippine address at J&F Divino Arcade, 961 Aurora Boulevard, Suite 407, Quezon City and the US-based Universal Placement International of 3345 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 407, Los Angeles, California. These two entities are owned and operated by one family. A certain Lourdes V. Navarro is the owner of Universal while is Emilio V. Villarba is the agent of PARS.

In the information provided on the blog, Section 1.A.3 of the teachers’ contract stipulates that 10% monthly gross for 2 years shall be paid to agency. However, the teachers paid upfront in advance 20% of “expected” gross income for 1 year. Further, “expected” gross income is bloated so as to make teachers pay the maximum advance payment.

A check with the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Agency) website last September showed that the license of PARS has been suspended but the suspension was recently lifted.

The teachers allege that Navarro has threatened to sue those who voice their opinions and share their bad experiences in the blog. But according to a Partido ng Manggagawa liaison officer in the US, the teachers are standing their ground despite the intimidation and are coordinating with their group for the filing of cases.

The teachers are also claiming that their contracts were signed and its contents disclosed to them only several days or even a day before their scheduled flight. Also the teachers are practically in debt bondage since they were forced to take out loans to pay the $8,000 to $10,000 placement fees. The placement agency referred the teachers to its own partner lending agency that charged an onerous 4% per month in interest.
The agency also entered into lease agreements without the knowledge and consent of teachers. The teachers forced to live in dilapidated, pest-infested apartment units in Baton Rouge chosen by agency despite the presence of better, safer, cleaner and cheaper apartments around the area. Moreover the published rent of a unit is only around $800 a month but teachers are charged $310 each with each apartment unit housing 4 individuals and at times up to 8.

In their blog, the teachers contend that the threat of the non-renewal of their contract for the second year has obliged many to endure the indignities and hardship at the hands of their illegal recruiter.

There are also a lot of cases where teachers arrived in Louisiana only to discover that they do no have any school assignments but instead had to attend job fairs for placement. According to the PM liaison officer in the US, in Baton Rouge alone there are at least 6 teachers who arrived and went without work for more than a month, and at least one teacher is up to now unemployed.

The PM liaison officer also revealed that a common practice of the agency is to transfer the teachers assigned to a specific school to another school in a different district. The teachers are forced to agree to the transfer than to wait indefinitely for a placement despite the fact that it is illegal since the specific school district assignment is indicated on the teachers’ visa. In one specific instance, 7 teachers from the East Baton Rouge school district were transferred to the Avoyelles school district where salary levels are much lower.

The teachers also assert that the agency, without any authorization, unlawfully opened their US social security numbers. Research conducted by the PM liaison officer showed that Navarro has a history of fraud conviction and identity theft cases in the State of California.

To add to the abuse, agency prohibits the teachers from petitioning family members using other agencies or through other means. Teachers were also required to sign a waiver in the Philippines no to bring families within the period of one year.

In their blog, the teachers however have declared an initial victory claiming that from $310 per individual per month, they were able to force Navarro to lower their rent to $275. And from $1800 to $2000 per individual, that they were able to lower the renewal fee to $1000. ###

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