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Monday, October 19, 2009

7 Pinoy nurses win case vs Sentosa in NLRC

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CHICAGO – Seven of the 31 Filipino nurses in New York who got embroiled in a labor dispute with their recruitment agent SentosaCare LLC won the case they earlier filed with the National Labor Recruitment Commission (NLRC) in Manila.

A decision by a three-member panel headed by NLRC presiding commissioner Gerardo C. Nograles awarded the seven nurses the “unexpired portion of their basic salaries" totaling $186,000, saying the nurses were “constructively dismissed" from their jobs.

The panel dismissed the claims of 18 others on grounds that they failed to produce a “quantum of evidence."

The ruling, which was handed down last Sept. 25 but made public only on Oct. 13, reversed an earlier ruling of executive labor arbiter Fatima Jambato-Franco that dismissed the case on January 24, 2008.

Rico Foz, executive vice president of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (Nafcon), declared the ruling as a “victory for the nurses, as the decision now finds wrongdoing on the part of the Sentosa employers."

"But let us not lower down our guard. Justice has not been truly served yet by this decision. While it is an improvement on how Philippine labor agencies look at the nurses’ complaints, the decision merely throws bones to the nurses and to all of us who support the nurses," he said.

Nafcon is one of the lead convenors of the campaign launched in the US in 2006 to help the nurses from exploitation and threats by their employers.

The nurses who won the case are Maria Theresa Ramos, Jennifer Lampa, Carlo Conrad Garcia, Rizza P. Maulion, Riche P. Salve, Annabelle Capulong and Maria Consuelo Gonzales.

They were former nurses at Avalon Gardens Nursing Home in Long Island, New York, who resigned from their positions as contract nurses with the SentosaCare LLC.

The nurses had earlier requested for legal assistance from the Philippine Consulate relative to their “working conditions, difficult working relationship with administration, delayed/underpayment payment of salaries and other benefits" that deprived them to send “money to their dependents in the Philippines" and their piling bills.

As noted by the NLRC panel, instead of acting on the workers’ complaints, the employers threatened to file suits against them before the US Courts for abandoning their jobs and endangering their patients.

“The delayed salaries and diminution in pay, coupled with the uncaring and indifferent attitude on the part of the respondents, brought about the feeling of oppression and created on adverse working environment, making it unacceptable for the employees to continue working for respondents," said the panel’s ruling.

Because the respondents led by Sentosa were in “substantial breach in their employment contracts" as the employees “demands for money claims were duly substantiated," the employees are “entitled to the full reimbursement of his placement fee with interest, plus the salaries corresponding to the unexpired portion" of their contract or for “three months for every year of the unexpired term, whichever is less," said the ruling, citing “The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995."

Background of the case

The labor dispute started when Sentosa supposedly failed to fulfill its commitment to let the nurses work in specific nursing homes in the US. The nurses complained that upon their arrival in New York, they found out that they were made to work for an employment agency and received less than what was stipulated in their contracts.

When their complaints were ignored, 55 nurses resigned from the Avalon Gardens Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in April 2006, but many of them returned to work for fear of paying a $25,000-fine to Sentosa.

Ten of the nurses, however, refused to budge and were charged by Sentosa before a New York court.

On January 13,2009, however, the New York court dismissed the case against the nurses, saying they were “threatened with prosecution for crimes for which they cannot constitutionally be tried." - GMANews.TV

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