100 Pinoy linemen in England laid off, to sue firm

Posted at 11/13/08 5:38 PM

WEST YORKSHIRE - Filipino electrical linemen based in Dewsbury, Yorkshire in England are included in the list of 100 workers who were laid off from work in September.

The workers were from Voltcom Limited, a consultancy firm that supplies linesmen to top power companies in the United Kingdom.

The group, composed of 11 Filipino, are planning to file a case against the company.

Ronald Yabut said 16 Filipinos were already sent home. He was also booked to fly home on 13 September but decided to stay in the UK.

“Magpa-file kami ng kaso kasi laban sa kanila---breach of contract--yung discrimination at saka yung unlawful deduction sa mga wages namin. Yung mga Pilipino wala na ring trabaho ngayon. Yung iba may balak mag-resign, yung iba mag-stay dito. Yung iba naman maghihintay na lang dun sabi nila na next year may trabaho sila at ipapatawag na lang,” said Yabut.

Yabut left his decent-paying job for more than 21 years in the Philippines when he was offered a five-year contract with Voltcom. The contract, however, was cut short less than year in the UK due to the global economic downturn.

The group claims the company is guilty of breach of contract, unlawful deduction of wages and harassment, among others. 

“Marami silang harassment. Sabi nila pag di kami umuwi ipapadampot kami sa pulis, idi-deport kami, ire-report kami sa home office. Although di kami natakot dun kasi alam naming na may karapatan kami,” said Edmond Suarez, a lineman who also lost his job.

Suarez said they were begging the company to allow them to stay in the UK and look for other work opportunities but the company started to threaten them. He was also issued a ticket to fly back to the Philippines but also refused to leave the UK.

“Bakit ako uuwi wala naman akong maasahang trabaho dun. Although wala rin akong maasahan dun sa pangako nilang trabaho sa amin. Sinabi nila pag-uwi namin 2-3 weeks magbabakasyon lang kayo tapos i-a-asses naming kayo pupuntang New, Zealand, Australia or Canada. Hinihingi namin yung proof wala naman silang maipakita,” he said.

After filing a complaint, the company is now amenable to their stay.

'Selection was discriminatory'

The group also claims the manner in which employees were selected for lay-off was discriminatory. But luckily, some of them like Alex Argao, were already hired by other companies to start work immediately.

“Highly-skilled na trabaho yan e. Isa sa high risk na trabaho yan sa buong mundo. Kasi we climb a tower of 150-200 feet everyday in our life here. At saka talagang lakas ng katawan at determinasyon talaga kaya namin nagagampanan ang trabaho namin. I could say lahat ng Pinoy linesman dito, they work par excellence talaga,” said Argao.

In a telephone interview, the company refused to confirm the number of Filipinos laid-off from work and sent home. It also denied allegations of discrimination, breach of contact and unlawful deduction of wages.

In a letter obtained by ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau, the company answered the allegations aired by the group during the grievance hearing on 14 October 2008: “Lay-offs were in no way based upon race, gender, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, or personal characteristics.”

It also stated that “prior notice to those Voltcom Ltd Employees being laid off was given verbally” by the site compliance manager 14 days prior to the end date set by the company.

But the linesmen are not convinced and are determined to file a case against the company. They have already sought the assistance of the labor attaché in London, lawyer Jainal Rasul, Jr.

In a letter sent to Rasul, the company promised more work opportunities for Filipinos next year: “Our projection for the next 12 months is where the Filipino workforce for Voltcom would grow to approximately 400 personnel.”

It also stated that the company values the Filipino workforce and the problem emanated from miscommunication. The letter also explained those who were sent home "were requested to return to the Philippines to have some time off" for two weeks with pay and prepare them for their transfer to Voltcom operations in Canada and Australia.