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Saturday, July 18, 2009

POLO assists distressed OFWs, victims of contract substitution in Libya

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said utmost efforts were set in place to address the complaints of distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Libya.

Labor and Employment Secretary Marianito D. Roque said the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Tripoli has promptly looked into the plight of 131 OFWs upon receiving their complaints against their employer in Benghazi, Libya.

Roque, citing a report from Tripoli-based Labor Attaché Nasser Mustafa, said the POLO found the complaints legitimate and subsequently started making representations with the OFWs' employer to address the complaints.

The OFWs complained of poor accommodation, substandard toilets, insufficient food and medical facilities, absence of safety gadgets, and downgraded and delayed salaries.

The DOLE Chief said the employer had acknowledged the shortcomings and assured the POLO that it would rectify the problem on accommodation, food, and sanitary and safety needs of the OFWs.

The employer, he added, was also told to comply with the OFWs' contract provision on salaries as it would be against the rules of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to downgrade the OFWs' salaries.

Roque said the POLO in Tripoli constantly made follow-ups with the employer to ensure its compliance with the demands of the OFWs, adding the POEA was prepared to investigate the former and the concerned recruitment agency in case the employer failed to address the OFWs' complaints.

Nonetheless, 11 of the OFWs found new employment with another company in Libya. The Tripoli-based POLO negotiated for the official release of the OFWs who had already started working for their new employer in Libya. The POLO will also negotiate for the release of the rest of the distressed OFWs who would soon be absorbed by a big construction Libyan firm.

Meanwhile, the POEA suspended two recruitment agencies, Aquagem Int'l and Sharikat Al Saedi, Int'l following investigation indicating that the OFWs they deployed to Libya suffered contract substitution. The OFWs' employer, Cifex World, was placed on the watchlist by the same agency.

Mustafa, thus emphasized that there is no truth to recent unfair reports that he had allegedly "defended the substituted contracts" in behalf of the erring agencies, while acting as a "spokesman" for the watchlist Libyan company, to the disadvantage of the victimized OFWs.

On the contrary, the Labor Attaché made it clear that when 13 of the OFWs ran away from the workplace last February, he immediately urged them to execute an affidavit against the blatant contract substitution forced them by the erring recruiters.

He added that 32 other OFWs, forced through the contract substitution to endure similar sub-standard conditions, were also duly assisted by the POLO in Tripoli after they were subsequently forced to run away last April.

It appeared, Mustafa said that the two recruiters had first asked the OFWs to sign the standard contract which had been verified. However, before the victims left for the airport on the way to Libya, they were forced to sign another contract with a lower salary and with different terms and conditions than those binding under the standard contract.

In the host country, Mustafa initiated continuous mediation and conciliation efforts in behalf of the runways, while ensuring their safe refuge and all-out assistance necessary to ease their plight.

As a result, he compelled the erring recruiters to shoulder responsibility in ensuring the repatriation expenses of OFWs back to the Philippines. Furthermore, through his mediation, the firm paid the workers' remaining salaries before their repatriation, and to issue them their final exit permit from the host country.

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