US, PH vow to uphold migrant workers' rights

By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN News North America

Posted at Jun 17 2012 06:10 PM | Updated as of Jun 18 2012 04:29 PM

WASHINGTON D.C – The United States and the Philippines have forged a Joint Declaration on Migrant Workers Rights, which aims to avoid a repetition of violations that led to the debarment of a Maryland public school system that victimized Filipino teachers.

Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. signed the Joint Declaration with US Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis last June 11.

The US signed similar accords with representatives of Honduras and Peru.

Last year, the Labor Department slammed the Prince George's County Public School system (PGCPS) with a two-year debarment and a $1.7-million fine for illegally collecting placement fees from international teachers, most of whom were from the Philippines.

They found that PGCPS "willfully violated" the conditions of H-2B visas that allowed the Filipino teachers to work and bring their families to Maryland.

"We are sad for the teachers. They abandoned everything in the Philippines for the American dream," said Philippine Labor Attache Luz Padilla to the Manila Mail.

Padilla said they are working with US Labor Department to ensure Filipino teachers in the Prince George’s County will receive a refund of the fees illegally collected from them.

"We continue to monitor them," she said.

The Labor Department has ordered the PGCPS to return some $4.2 million it unlawfully collected from the Filipino teachers.

According to Padilla, the Labor Department’s accord will go a long way to preventing a repetition of the Prince George’s County experience.

"We have enough regulations (in the Philippines) in place. They should not have paid excessive placement fees, because that is prohibited by law, then we found out that under US laws, they're not supposed to pay that at all," she said.

"Information should have been provided to our teachers," Padilla stressed.

Over 800 Filipinos were lured from their jobs in the Philippines and now face the unwelcome prospect of a reverse migration.

She revealed that Cuisia has already made arrangement with Education Secretary Armand Luistro to employ teachers who were displaced from Prince George’s County.

"The Department of Education (DepEd) will assist Filipino teachers who have to return to the Philippines, so they can be accommodated in Philippine schools," Padilla said.

"I am sure if there are opportunities in private schools, DepEd can also help," she said.

Private schools usually offer better pay and benefits than their government counterparts, a more palatable option for many of the displaced teachers who were lured to the US primarily by the promise of a higher salary.

Work permits for the last and biggest batch of Filipino teachers in Prince George's County will expire in September.

A separate group from the Baltimore public school system is expected to suffer a similar fate as more Americans re-discover the teaching profession because of the tight labor market.