The online news portal of TV5
MANILA, Philippines - For 24 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who reportedly fell victims to forced labor in the United States, they found that this country was not a land of milk and honey after all but a land of quagmires. Luckily, justice was not elusive for them in the end.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has thrashed to its blacklist two U.S.-based employment service companies for illegal recruitment and unjust labor practices.
POEA Administrator Hans Leo J. Cacdac recently revealed that the two companies – U.S. Opportunities and Royal Hospitality Services LLC – have been found to have violated the POEA “Rules and Regulations Governing the Recruitment and Employment of Land-based Overseas Workers.” Thus, they are now banned from participating in the Philippine government’s overseas employment program.
Cacdac said the order resolved with finality the recruitment violation case filed against the two employment service companies for their failure to provide the 24 OFWs the jobs specified in their contracts.
Mike Lombardi, the owner of U.S. Opportunities, has been jailed after pleading guilty to charges of visa fraud. The final judgment of the case is slated on August 6, 2012.
Moreover, separate human trafficking cases against the companies have also been filed in the U.S. Department of Home Security and the Department of Justice in the Philippines, Cacdac said.
As for the ZDrive Inc., the U.S. companies’ accredited recruitment agency in the Philippines, it has also been prevented from recruiting other OFWs in view of POEA’s cancellation of its license on May 31, 2011 after its suspension that took effect on August 20, 2010.
These developments came after the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Washington reported in 2010 to Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) about the hapless situation of the 24 OFWs.
The victims narrated that U.S. Opportunities promised them jobs in hotels in Florida with a U.S. H2B visa. They said they shelled out an aggregate amount of P350,000 for the payment of fees. Their trip pushed through but instead of heading to Florida, however, they were brought to Mississippi.
It was only then that they realized they were going to be forced to work in farms, plant 1,800 pine tree seedlings a day, rake and bail pine leaves in the cold winter and live in trailers situated in the woods without potable water and electricity.
According to them, they were only paid US$ 40 a week and were allegedly subjected to threats and intimidation.
Determined to end their one-month plight, they escaped and sought refuge at ZDrive Inc. which, in turn, referred them to Royal Hospitality Services. They were finally employed in various hotels and entertainment facilities but misfortunes seemed to be hounding them -- they were paid below the minimum wage and illegal deductions left them a measly amount.
They finally went to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Washington to seek assistance and were advised to file charges against the concerned companies.