• Breach of contract can cost migrant worker damage suit

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    Persida Acosta

    Dear PAO,
    I am already scheduled to leave the country to work as an accountant in the Middle East but I suddenly backed out for personal reasons. As a result, the manager of the recruitment agency became furious and threatened to file a suit against me unless I pay the expenses that the company allegedly incurred to process my documents. I know I am at fault but I don’t have money to pay my recruitment agency. If the manager pushes with his threat to sue me, what case or cases could I possibly face?
    Cath

    Dear Cath,
    There are two possible cases that your recruitment agency may file against you, to wit: a civil case for breach of contract and an administrative case for violation of Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) rules.

    An overseas employment contract, like any other kind of contract, establishes a legal tie between the contracting parties. As a contract, it creates obligations that have the force of law between the contracting parties, and is to be complied with in good faith (Article 1159, Civil Code). Should one party fail to comply with his obligation, the other party is entitled to rescind the obligation. “The injured party may choose between the fulfillment and the rescission of the obligation, with the payment of damages in either case.” (Article 1191, Id.) This action is called breach of contract, which is defined as a “failure without legal reason to comply with the terms of a contract” (Cathay Pacific Airways, Ltd. v. Vasquez, G.R. No. 150843, March 14, 2003; ponente: former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. citing Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 270 (1986)).

    Such civil liability includes payment of the expenses that the agency incurred to process the overseas employment of the concerned migrant worker. Under the rules issued by the POEA: “If the deployment of the worker does not materialize due to his fault, the agency may charge the worker for actual expenses incurred in connection with his recruitment, duly supported by official receipts”(Section 4, Rule III, Part III, POEA Rules and Regulations Governing the Recruitment and Employment of Land-based Overseas Workers).

    In addition, a person who fails to comply with the terms of an overseas employment contract, particularly on non-deployment, may become administratively liable. Under the rules, a migrant worker can be subjected to disciplinary action for his “unjustified refusal to depart for the worksite after all employment and travel documents have been duly approved by the appropriate government agencies.” (Section 1(A)(2), Rule III, Part VII, Id.) Such violation is considered a serious offense for which the concerned migrant worker may be penalized with six (6) months and one (1) day to one (1) year suspension from participation in the overseas employment program for the first offense, or permanent disqualification if committed for the second time. (Section 1 (A) (2), Rule IV, Id.)
    You mentioned in your narration that you were already scheduled to leave for overseas employment when you backed out. We interpret this statement to mean that you and your recruitment agency have already agreed on the terms and conditions of your overseas employment. As such, you are bound to comply with your contractual obligation to work overseas, and your failure to comply with your obligation will give your recruitment agency a ground to file a suit for breach of contract and ask for damages. Further, you may also be subjected to a disciplinary action under the above-mentioned POEA rule unless you can show that you have a legitimate reason for your refusal to depart, such as exposure to hazardous, demeaning working and living conditions, war, plague or other calamities at the worksite and violation of labor laws of the Philippines, the host country or international labor laws. (Section 4, Rule III, Part VII, Id.)

    We hope this opinion sufficiently addressed your concern. Please bear in mind that this opinion is based on the facts you presented and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary if facts are changed or elaborated.

    Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net

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