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Easy preys

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - April 9, 2021 - 12:00am

Our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are considered as unsung heroes because of the millions of dollars they remit to boost our economy. Nevertheless, they belong to a disadvantaged class as they come from the poorest sector of our society, living in suffocating slums and trapped in an environment of crimes. Their only hope is to find jobs, which are difficult in our country. So they are compelled to work overseas where they become easy prey to avaricious employers and work under sub-human conditions. This is once more illustrated in this case of Virginia.

Wishing to earn a living, Virginia approached an employment agency through its manager Rosita for employment abroad. So she was hired as domestic employer in Kuwait with a salary of $400.00 per month for a period of two years.

Virginia arrived in Kuwait together with other OFWs. Due to disagreement in the working conditions, her employment with the first and second employers did not succeed. Eventually she was employed by a certain Mr. Sahib through another employment agency. But Mr. Sahib never secured a working visa for her and she was not properly paid in accordance with the terms of their employment contract. During her three-month stay she was only paid $227.75 instead of $400.00 a month. Then she had no permanent employer for the entire contractual period of two years. She was consistently promised job placements which were found to be inexistent, showing clearly that Mr. Sahib intended to use her as an entertainer of some sort in places of ill repute. When she decided to return to the Philippines, she was made to copy and sign a prepared resignation letter as a condition for the release of her passport and plane ticket.

Thus Virginia was left with no other recourse but to terminate her employment and sign the letter to be able to return to the Philippines. Upon arrival, she filed a complaint for illegal or constructive dismissal before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) against the employment agency and Rosita its manager.

After considering the parties’ respective arguments and evidence, the NLRC rendered judgment directing the employment agency and Rosita to jointly and severally pay Virginia salary differentials and salary for the unexpired portion of her contract totaling $2,916.75 plus moral and exemplary damages of P25,000 each. The appeal by the employment agency and Rosita before the CA was dismissed and the NLRC decision was upheld.

On further petition for review, the Supreme Court (SC) affirmed the decision of the CA with the modification that all the monetary awards shall earn 6 percent per annum from the date of the decision until paid. The SC ruled that it finds no reason to deviate from the findings of the NLRC and the CA against the validity, regularity and due execution of the resignation letter, Affidavit of Quitclaim and Desistance which were used by the agency and Rosita as their defense.

According to the SC, waivers, releases and quitclaims in the context of termination disputes are contrary to public policy and ineffective to bar claims of a worker’s legal rights because employers and employees do not stand on the same footing, such that quitclaims and resignations usually take the form of contracts of adherence, not of choice.

According to the SC, because of their failure to comply with the terms of Virginia’s contract of employment, the argument of the employment agency and Rosita that Virginia requested for repatriation because she was pregnant while in Kuwait, as shown by the medical certificate about her incomplete abortion, deserves scant consideration. In fact, the NLRC and the CA did not delve on this issue, especially because the unfortunate circumstances of overseas workers make them easy preys of avaricious employers abroad (Al-Masiya Overseas Employment Agency Inc. and Rosalina Aboy vs. Hazel Viernes, G.R. 216132, Jan. 22, 2020).

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Email: js0711192@gmail.com

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