I am about to leave the country to work abroad. But I am having doubts about leaving because my recruitment agency told me that there will be changes in my contract. When I asked why, the manager told me that the foreign employer requested the changes. May I ask if my recruitment agency can make last-minute changes? Can I sue the recruitment agency? If so, what case can I file?
Overseas employment contracts are submitted to the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) for approval. Once approved, the terms and conditions of the contract cannot be changed to the detriment of the overseas Filipino worker without the approval of the Labor department. Otherwise, there will be contract substitution. Such practice is expressly prohibited by law and is classified as a form of illegal recruitment.
The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 defines illegal recruitment as follows:
“For purposes of this Act, illegal recruitment shall mean any act of canvassing, enlisting, contracting,
transporting, utilizing, hiring or procuring workers and includes referring, contract services, promising or advertising for employment abroad, whether for profit or not, when undertaken by non-licensee or non-holder of authority… It shall likewise include the following acts, whether committed by any person, whether a non-licensee, non-holder, licensee or holder of authority:
(i) To substitute or alter to the prejudice of the worker employment contracts approved and verified by the Department of Labor and Employment from the time of actual signing thereof by the parties up to and including the period of the expiration of the same without the approval of the Department of Labor and Employment;” (Sec. 6 (i), Republic Act 8042 as amended by RA 10022)
Clearly, the law mandates that in order to make a valid alteration, the concerned recruitment agency needs to seek the approval of the DoLE. Hence, a recruitment agency cannot alter, on its own, the terms and conditions of a contract approved and verified by the DoLE. This is true even if the alteration is requested by the foreign principal. The proscribed or prohibited alteration refers to one that is prejudicial to the concerned overseas Filipino worker, which is reasonable considering that the measure is instituted to protect OFWs against the unscrupulous practice of changing the terms and conditions to their detriment.
In case of contract substitution, the aggrieved OFW can file a criminal complaint for illegal recruitment punishable with imprisonment and fine under Section 7 of the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995. In addition, the aggrieved OFW may also file an administrative complaint for violation of recruitment rules and regulations against the recruitment agency before the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which is punished with suspension of license on the first three offenses, and cancelation of license on the fourth offense. (Sec. 143 (q), Rule III, Revised POEA Rules and Regulations Governing the Recruitment of Land-based Overseas Filipino Workers of 2016, and Sec. 123 (B) (2), Rule III, 2016, Revised POEA Rules and Regulations Governing the Recruitment and Employment of Seafarers)
Applied to your case, it is necessary to determine if the changes to be made on your contract were approved by the Labor department and if such changes will be detrimental to you. In they were not, then your agency has committed the proscribed or forbidden practice of contract substitution. In such a case, you may file the appropriate criminal and administrative complaint against your agency.
We find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated. We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.