Good news for OFWs, bad news for recruiters

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

This is a big boost to our twelve million OFWs in 200 countries all over the world, and a big blow against recruiters, especially the unscrupulous ones. The Supreme Court, en banc (all the 15 Justices except the Chief Justice who was on leave) decided in favor of an illegally dismissed OFW working in Taiwan, and deplored many unfair practices to which our migrant workers have been subjected to, for many decades by now. It is a well-written 29-paged decision penned by the youngest Justice, Mario Victor F. Leonen, former UP Law Professor and Mindanao Peace Process government negotiator. This was in SOPA Inc (disguised to avoid embarrassment), versus Joy Cabiles, GR 170139 promulgated on 05 August 2014. This decision is precedent-setting and will definitely send out waves of vexations across the recruitment industry.

First, the Supreme Court stressed that OFWs are entitled to security of tenure, no matter how some quarters classify them, whether contractual or employee with a predetermined tenure. At least, they have job security during their two-year contract period. Second, OFWs cannot be dismissed by the foreign employers without just causes, referring to the Labor Code, and such other causes provided in the contract approved by the Labor Attache and the POEA. Third, OFWs are entitled to due process. Fourth, the law of the Philippines, where the contract was executed shall govern, not the law of the host government. Fifth, the Philippine recruiters are bound by the illegal acts of the foreign employer. Sixth, since recruiters here are jointly and severally liable, they are obliged to pay in the entire extent of the liability. They can collect from their principal if ever they could.

Seventh, the illegally dismissed OFW shall be entitled to be paid for all the unpaid salaries for the entire unexpired portion of the contract, and should not be limited to three months. That means that if after only one month, the 24 month-contract is breached by the employer by illegal dismissal, that employer, through the recruiter here, should pay for the unexpired 23 months. That means that if the OFW salary is one thousand dollars a month, he should be paid US$ 23,000. Number eight, the provision of RA 10022 that limits backwages to three months was declared unconstitutional. Ninth, the backwages shall be subject to a 12 percent interest in accordance with Section 15, in relation to 10, of RA 8042. And tenth, there should be reimbursement of her placement fees and other expenses.

Well, I am sure the recruiters will be very angry with this ruling but the Court is only doing its job. Justice Leonen said: " This government loses its soul if we fail to ensure decent treatment for all Filipinos. We default by limiting the contractual wages that should be paid to the workers, when their contracts are breached by foreign employers. While we sit, this Court will ensure that our laws will reward our overseas workers with what they deserve: their dignity. Inevitably, their dignity is ours as well." It appears that mysteriously, RA 10022, instead of improving on the protection for OFWs, provided for a diminution of backwages. This scheme of limiting backwages has already been annulled by the Court in the Serrano case. But somehow, such an anti-OFW insertion has been made. Now the Court has annulled it again.

In an earlier case, Prieto ( 226 SCRA 232 ), Justice Cruz once wrote: " While these workers may indeed have little defense against exploitation while they are abroad, that disadvantage must not continue to burden them when they return to their own territory to voice their muted complaint. There is no reason why, in their very own land, the protection of our own laws cannot be extended to them in full measure. Justice Cruz told of the burdens carried by OFWs like breach of contract, maltreatment, rape, inadequate food, subhuman lodgings, insults and all forms of debasement in the hands of foreign employers. As a former Labor Attache assigned in Kuwait, Malaysia and Taiwan, these are not just words. These bring me to tears as I recall the sufferings of our OFWs. I salute the Supreme Court for this decision.

At last, there is a ray of hope.



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