Earlier this week, a U.S. federal court in Los Angeles ordered a recruitment agency to pay US$4.5 million in damages to 350 Filipino teachers. The teachers, recruited as part of a guest worker programme, had been forced into exploitive contracts after arriving in the United States.
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The verdict in the class-action lawsuit followed a two-week trial in a U.S. federal court in Los Angeles, where the recruitment agency, Universal Placement International, is registered. The case was filed on behalf of the teachers by the American Federation of Teachers, one of Education International's affiliates in the United States, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organisation dedicated to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society.
The teachers began arriving in the United States in 2007 as part of a guest worker programme, which permits foreign nationals with special skills to work in the United States for up to six years. Most teachers paid the agency a fee of about US $16,000 - several times the average household income in the Philippines - to obtain their jobs.
Nearly all the teachers had to borrow money to pay for these recruiting fees. The recruiters referred the teachers to private lenders who charged 3 to 5 percent interest per month. Teachers were forced to pay these exorbitant fees because they had already made substantial investments in the recruitment process that would otherwise have been lost. The recruiters confiscated their passports and visas until the teachers paid.
In addition to paying up-front fees, the teachers were also forced to sign away about 10 percent of their salaries. Teachers who resisted signing the contracts were threatened with being sent home and losing the thousands of dollars they already had paid. Those contracts were declared illegal and unenforceable by the court as part of this case.
"This groundbreaking verdict affirms the principle that all teachers working in our public schools must be treated fairly, regardless of what country they may come from," said AFT President, Randi Weingarten. "These outrageous abuses provide dramatic examples of the exploitation that can occur when there is no proper oversight of the professional recruitment industry. The practices involved in this case - labor contracts signed under duress and other arrangements reminiscent of indentured servitude - are things that should have no place in 21st-century workplaces."
EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said: "EI affiliates all over the world have highlighted the all too frequent violations of fundamental human and trade union rights of migrants. The positive contribution of migrants both to their host and home countries needs to be recognised, and their welfare and rights should be at the centre of policies and agreements. This verdict sends a clear message that exploitive and abusive practices involving migrant teachers cannot be tolerated; it is a welcome step in the right direction."
Education International's 6th World Congress, held in Cape Town in July 2011, passed a resolution on teacher migration and mobility, manifesting "its conviction that the migratory phenomenon should be addressed from the validity of human rights and with the instruments provided by democracy."
To read the resolution's full text, please click here: http://pages.ei-ie.org/library/en/libraries/detail/172