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USA: Court upholds decision to award Filipino teachers in forced labour case

published 8 December 2015 updated 17 December 2015

The Ninth Circuit court has upheld the decision to award $4.5 million to 350 Filipino teachers who were forced into exploitive contracts by a Los Angeles teacher placement company.

A teacher recruitment company has lost its appeal to avoid paying $4.5 million USD to Filipino teachers it exploited in Louisiana. The original case was filed on behalf of the teachers by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the Covington and Burling law firm.

Bonded labour

The teachers began arriving in the United States in 2007 as part of the H-1B guest worker programme. Administered by the U.S. Department of Labour, the H-1B visas permit foreign nationals with special skills to work in the United States for up to six years. Most teachers paid the placement service about $16,000 USD—several times the average household income in the Philippines—to obtain their jobs.

The vast majority of the teachers had to borrow money to pay the massive 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 that would not be returned. The recruiters also confiscated the teachers’ passports and visas until the recruitment fees were paid in full.

In addition to paying up-front fees, the teachers were forced to sign away an additional 10 percent of the salaries they would earn during their second year of teaching. Teachers who resisted signing the contracts were threatened with being sent home and forced to forfeit the thousands of dollars they already had paid. Those contracts were declared illegal and unenforceable by the court as part of this case.

More information on the international recruitment of migrant teachers and unions' involvement is available here