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2 recruitment agencies, Libyan firm suspended

POEA also orders probe First Posted 19:24:00 04/12/2009

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MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has suspended two Manila-based recruitment agencies and a Libyan company from hiring overseas Filipino workers over alleged anomalies and abuse.

POEA administration Jennifer Jardin-Manalili also ordered Sharikat Al-Saedi International Manpower Corp. and Aqua-Gem International Manpower Corp. and their principal, Cifex World-Libya, investigated for illegal recruitment.

This after the POEA received complaints of contract substitution and labor rights violations filed by 18 of the 300 OFWs that the three firms processed for jobs in Libya

The POEA chief, in an April 3 order, said there was "strong evidence" that Sharikat and Aqua-Gen committed misrepresentation and contract substitution while Cifex defaulted on its contractual obligations, grossly violated the laws, rules and regulations on overseas employment, and committed grave misconduct.

"Also, there exists reasonable ground to believe that the continued deployment of workers by respondent agencies to the principal will lead to further violations," Manalili said in the six-page order obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).

The two recruitment agencies hired the OFWs late in 2008 to fill up the manpower needs of Cifex, which had obtained a contract to build a palace complex in Tripoli.

The POEA initiated an inquiry after receiving information from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Libya, headed by labor attaché Nasser Mustafa, that the OFWs hired by Sharikat and Aqua-Gem, were forced to sign a second employment contract before leaving Manila for Libya.

The new contract resulted in, among others, the reduction of the OFWs' basic salaries from about $500 a month to between $300 and $400 a month.

Mustafa said the new contract was considered binding under Libyan law and most of the OFWs opted to remain in Libya. The attaché, however, vowed to go after the Manila recruiters.

The OFWs later complained of contract and labor rights violations, such as excessive working hours, non-payment of overtime work, and insufficient food and drinking water. They also accused the company of not providing for their laundry, not giving them medical services, and violating their right to privacy by forbidding locks on the doors to their quarters.

Nineteen workers, unable to bear the abuses, ran away from the Cifex worksite, although six later returned. Thirteen of the OFWs later decided to leave the company, and returned to Manila in February.

Mustafa also came to Manila, collected affidavits from some of the returnees and others still in Libya, and brought the case to POEA's attention.

In the meantime, the POLO sponsored a dialogue between the OFWs and the Cifex officials regarding working conditions.

Mustafa said it had yet to be seen if the management would comply with the agreements reached in the talks. He also warned that the disgruntled OFWs were planning to hold a sit-down strike.

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