HOUSTON (CN) – Forty-seven Filipinos say recruiters for the oil and gas industry hired them in the Philippines, charged thousands of dollars in fees for permanent jobs in the United States then forced them into “debt bondage” when they were laid off.
The men say Houston-based International Plant Services (IPS) and its Manila-based affiliate, MBC Human Resources Development Management Corp., promised them a “guaranteed minimum salary with or without work,” of at least $18 per hour. The offer induced them to leave their families and come to the United States.
The complaint in Harris County Court refers to the two companies and six individual defendant officers as the “Enterprise.”
“The Enterprise profited by recruiting foreign nationals in the Philippines and charged the foreign nationals anywhere from $1,200 to $4,000 per person for what they represented as fees associated with obtaining a visa, for the cost of transporting them into the United States and placing them within the terms of their H2B or E-2 visa,” according to the complaint.
Many of the workers took out loans from the Enterprise to “facilitate the payment of fees charged by the Enterprise,” the workers say. “Loans from the Enterprise were repaid to MBC through automatic withholding from the Foreign Workers’ salary at IPS.”
The Enterprise gave its victims “written contract guarantees” that their room and board would be paid, the complaint states. But upon arrival, the Enterprise’s representatives told them the contracts they signed did not apply in the United States, and they would receive a $1,000 per month living allowance that they would have to repay.
Contrary to the steady work the Enterprise promised, the workers say, they were placed into a general labor pool, and IPS employed them when jobs became available.
“As workers were not allowed to work anywhere but for IPS, large numbers of workers were unemployed for months at a time, placing them in debt bondage to IPS,” the complaint states.
The workers say the Enterprise falsely represented to the U.S. Consul in the Philippines that “there was a specific job to which the employee would be assigned,” to get visas.
The Enterprise intimidated the men by threatening to send them home if they complained, and said it would not pay any worker’s unpaid wages upon termination, the laborers say.
“IPS made it clear to workers that they could not leave employment with IPS by falsely claiming that plaintiffs would be deported if they went to work for any other employer who offered better working conditions. Plaintiffs had no choice but to ‘escape’ the involuntary servitude imposed by defendants,” the workers say.
They seek punitive damages from International Plant Services, MBC Human Resources International, and Noureddine Ayed, Karim Ayed, Nida Sarmiento, Richard Johnston, Adrienne Wilson, Lesyander Bustamonte and John Does 1-10, for breach of contract, fraud, unjust enrichment, conversion and conspiracy.
The workers are represented by Stephen Cochell of Houston.