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PIA Press Release

Contracts of 15 disgruntled workers in Sabah uncleared by POEA

Manila (23 June) -- The contract of 15 disgruntled Filipino plantation workers in Sabah did not pass the scrutiny of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), exposing them to possible unfair treatment by their employer, it was learned today.

Following this discovery, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that if the workers so desire, they can opt for repatriation to the Philippines.

The DFA said that through one of the workers, identified as Butch Pastolero, the embassy has offered to assist in the group's repatriation via Sandakan, which is south of the border in Mindanao. But Pastolero himself reportedly expressed reluctance to leave Sabah.

Quoting reports from Ambassador Victoriano Lecaros Jr. in the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur, the DFA said that conciliation talks between the workers and the management of Hoy Chan Plantations broke down this morning, leading to a hardening of stance of either party. Further talks are postponed indefinitely.

Lecaros also denied allegations of negligence of the plight of the Filipinos, who have complained of unequal pay rates, inadequate food and arbitrary detention. The company is engaged in palm oil production.

The Filipinos were among a group of 50 Filipinos who went in two batches to Sabah in December 2008 and January 2009 to work as harvesters in the palm oil plantation, according to the records.

Their contract stipulated a monthly pay of between RM800 to 1,000 (Malaysian Ringgit), based on actual individual output. As it turned out, they departed for Sabah without clearance from the POEA, making them vulnerable to possible exploitation.

Lecaros said that on May 13, it received reports about the plight of the workers and has since "been assisting" them with management. He quoted company sources as alleging that the 15 Filipinos did not meet the minimum required output and were thus paid lower than their companions.

Earlier, a militant overseas-based Filipino group, Migrante International, claimed having visited the plantation and meeting with the Filipinos, and reported the situation to Philippine media as it accused the DFA of ignoring the workers.

Lecaros reported that workers and management "have been engaged in talks and were nearing resolution until a third party stepped in and painted the company badly in the media."

Contrary to Migrante's accusations of DFA indifference, Lecaros was in Sabah last week to look into the workers' conditions and other issues pertaining to Filipino nationals there. A four-man consular mission from the Embassy, headed by Consul General Rene Villa, is still in Sarawak.

There are presently two consular teams in Sabah providing assistance to Filipinos. One is a five-man team in Kota Kinabalu and another a team of four in Sandakan, the DFA said.

Following the unfortunate incident, the DFA renewed its reminder that all prospective overseas workers ensure that their work contracts are reviewed and approved by the POEA. (PIA-MMIO) [top]

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