Migrants’ group accuses MECO, POEA of human trafficking

MANILA, Sept. 19, 2010—A Hong Kong based interfaith migrants’ watchdog has accused government labor agencies of human trafficking in letting 13 overseas workers to sign an addendum in a contract that had been declared illegal.

The Asian Pacific Mission for Migrants (APPM) has charged the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), the Philippines’ quasi-labor body in Taiwan and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) of human trafficking as the agencies allowed 13 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to sign an addendum in a contract with a Taiwanese company, which Taiwanese law had declared illegal since 1999.

APMM director Ramon Bultron, in a statement said by letting the addendum be part of the contract signed by the 13 OFWs with AV Tech Corporation, both the MECO and the POEA are party to the criminal act of human trafficking.

In the addendum, the OFW must pay NT$2,500 (P3,486) per month for his or her food and accommodations as well as take care of his or her airfare to and from Taiwan. The addendum is signed by the AV Tech Corporation, two brokerage firms—one from the Philippines, one from Taiwan—and the OFW, the migrant advocate explained.

While the Taiwan government’s Bureau of Labor Affairs (BLA) sided with the company by stating that the addendum is legal, the OFWs asserted that the addendum is contradictory to labor standards and is clearly inimical to the rights and interests of migrant workers.

“It was Migrante Taiwan that assisted the 13 OFWs and relayed the case to the APMM,” Bultron said.

“But this wasn’t an easy process,” Migrante Taiwan chairperson David Chang told CBCPNews in an email.

Chang together with another Migrante-Taiwan officer and NILRA’s (New Immigrants Labor Rights Association) Allison Lee had accompanied the 13 Filipino workers in negotiations with the MECO.

Chang told CBCPNews that MECO’s Philippine Overseas Labor Office translator Gina Lin had forced herself to be one of the negotiators and demanded the two Migrante officials to present their alien residence certificate (ARC) to the BLO for proper identification. However, Lee had criticized Lin saying that it was irresponsible on the part of the MECO official to demand from the two members of Migrante Taiwan to show their ARCs for this could expose their address to both the company and the brokerage agency.

“As the negotiations had pushed through,” says Chang, “we found out that Lin was a former employee of the brokerage agency being accused of labor malpractice. And it was her who earlier told the complainants that the MECO cannot help them on their case and that it takes two weeks for the National Immigration Agency to provide them shelter.”

But despite the hardships of negotiations, they had won and it was a sweet victory, Chang said.

“We have been able to pressure the AV Tech (a) to return the passports to the employees (after almost two years); (b) to update the pay slips, which was two to three months delayed; (c) return their savings for their employer has implemented an illegal deduction of forced savings worth NT$3,000/month) (d) to refund illegal deductions (which include electric bill worth NT$180); (e) to refund overtime pay; (f) to pay their salary for the month of September (the employer illegally terminated the contract on September 6); (g) to pull-out the video monitor in the living room and bedroom; (h) to stop the verbal abuse; (i) to conduct an inspection in the dormitory that is non-conducive for living; and (j) to sack the company’s coordinator who often verbally abused and threatened the workers,” says Chang.

Meanwhile, the APMM demands the Philippine government to issue a statement disallowing the signing of the addendum and to immediately investigate the incident and prosecute all officials who have allowed the proliferation of the addendum.

“It is bad enough that the Aquino administration has slashed the legal assistance budget for OFWs by half. Allowing labor exploitation to be put into paper is another,” Bultron said.

Chang, on the other hand said, that the Philippine government should stop hiring ex-brokers, people of questionable reputation and those who are clearly against the interests of OFWs to work with MECO. (CBCPNews)