Pinoy teachers in US use blog to air grievances vs recruiter

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 24 2008 08:37 PM | Updated as of Nov 25 2008 04:43 AM

A group of Filipino migrant teachers in the US have started to use a blog to express their various grievances against their recruiter.

“We gave all that we could, so we can start building a dream for ourselves and our families. We discovered however that the beautiful pictures that were painted in our imagination are not as what they seem to be. Now we discovered that the Recruitment and Placement Agency who we entrusted with our dreams is not acting with the best, or in fact not even a fraction, of our interests in mind,” stated the group called Concerned Filipino migrant teachers of Louisiana.

In their blog called the Pinoy Teachers Hub, the teachers accused their recruitment agency, PARS International Placement Agency and the US-based Universal Placement International, Los Angeles, California of violating their contract, overcharging, issuing threats and intimidation, providing them with poor living quarters and illegal and suspicious opening of their US Social Security Numbers.

In a press statement by labor group Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), it was learned that the two agencies are allegedly owned and operated by one family with a certain Lourdes Navarro as the owner of Universal, while Emilio Villarba is the agent of PARS.

An employee of the agency in Manila said Mr. Villarba is out of the office when abs-cbnNEWS.com tried to contact him for comments.

PM said that at least 200 teachers were placed through the agency and deployed in five different school districts in Louisiana but the bulk of them are in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. They were issued a 1-year working visa (H1B) instead of the usual 3-year H1B visa.

“The fees and charges were not even clear to us as the agency seems to invent new ways to empty our pockets every week. Many of us were not even able to read and study our contracts with the agency as we only received a copy of it on the eve of our flight,” stated the teachers’ group in an open letter to all Filipino migrant teachers.

The agency allegedly overcharged them of placement fees and made premature collections which violates Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995.

“Our contract stipulates that 10% of our monthly gross income for two years shall be paid to the agency. In reality however we were made to pay in advance 20% of our “expected” gross income for one year. To add insult to injury the ‘expected’ gross income is bloated so as to make us pay the maximum advance payment,” said the group.

Steep borrowing rates

They alleged that some of them have also been cornered by the agency into borrowing from its partner lending agency that charges excessive interest rates.

“The agency is charging us illegally with steep placement fees, then turns around and refers us to its partner lending agency to charge us once again with exorbitant interest rates,” they said.

While working in the US, teachers are cramped into what they described as “dilapidated apartment units” but are being overcharged with the rent.

“While the published rent of a unit is only around $800 a month, we are all charged $310 each with each apartment unit housing 4 individuals and at times up to 8,” said the group.

Dismayed by being treated as ‘modern slaves’, the group asserts their right to a clean and safe dwelling, chosen by them.

“The agency however decided to simply disregard these rights and make money in the process,” they said.

They mentioned that the agency and its owner have resorted to threats and intimidation to prevent them from speaking out about their condition. They were also discouraged from connecting with other Filipino groups otherwise “our contracts will not be renewed.”

Other jobs

Furthermore, some teachers who are still without school assignments had to attend job fairs for placement.

“They were duped into believing that a job is waiting for them here for how else can they be issued working visas. For the meantime, interest payments for their debts pile up every day,” they stated.

A PM liaison officer in the US said that in Baton Rouge alone there are at least six teachers who arrived and went without work for more than a month, and at least one teacher is up to now unemployed.

The liaison officer said that it is a common practice of the agency to transfer teachers assigned to a specific school to another school in a different district.

Teachers are forced to agree to the transfer than to wait indefinitely for a placement despite the fact that it is illegal since the specific school district assignment is indicated on the teachers' visa, PM said in its statement.

“In one specific instance, 7 teachers from the East Baton Rouge school district were transferred to the Avoyelles school district where salary levels are much lower,” PM said.

The teachers also assert that the agency, without any authorization, unlawfully opened their US social security numbers.

Meanwhile, an initial victory was claimed by the teachers. From $310 per individual per month rent payment, they were able to force Navarro to lower the rent to $275. They were also able to lower renewal fee to $1000 from $1800 to $2000 per individual.

However, the small victory will not stop the group from pursuing their campaign to extract justice.

“The fight for real justice goes on! Let us remain courageous and united as we are confident of the victory of good over evil,” they said. -- by MARIA ALETA NIEVA, abs-cbnNEWS.com