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Filipino Workers: Oil Company Abandoned Us in Hurricane Ida

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As Hurricane Ida struck the Louisiana Gulf Coast in August 2021, Renato Decena and Rosel Hernandez watched the typhoon punch a hollow within the roof of the bunkhouse the place they had been sheltered — deserted, they allege, via their offshore oil business employer because the typhoon bore down.

“I may no longer bring to mind the rest to do however to wish and to wish,” Decena, who court docket information point out labored for the corporate for approximately 4 years, instructed The Related Press.

Decena and Hernandez are two of 10 Filipino employees who’re suing their former employer, primary offshore oil business corporate Grand Isle Shipyard, alleging they had been digital prisoners at their bunkhouse and that the corporate deserted Decena, Hernandez and a few in their co-workers there during the storm. The ten plaintiffs additionally allege they had been illegally underpaid and that the ones amongst them who examined certain for COVID-19 had been quarantined on inclined moored provide boats or different vessels, every so often with out ok meals or medication.

Grand Isle Shipyard no longer handiest denies the claims however has struck again with a counterclaim accusing the employees — whose lawsuit invokes federal human trafficking and honest housing regulations — of defamation. The pass judgement on within the case disregarded the defamation allegations in a Jan. 20 order however mentioned the corporate may pursue them once more as soon as the employees’ lawsuit is concluded.

The competing court docket filings on the U.S. District Courtroom in New Orleans lay out starkly other perspectives of existence for Filipinos who paintings beneath federally granted visas on the Louisiana-based corporate.

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In another country employment of Filipino voters has been a key a part of the Philippines’ financial system for the reason that executive of Ferdinand Marcos within the Seventies, consistent with nonpartisan analysis and research group the Migration Coverage Institute.

The Philippines’ international remittances — cash despatched again to friends and family from Filipino employees hired out of the country — totaled greater than $36 billion in 2021, consistent with data from the International Financial institution.

“As a part of its hard work export coverage, the Philippines has evolved an important executive infrastructure to keep watch over hard work migration and the recruitment business, and to regulate members of the family with labor-receiving international locations and supply some protections for employees at vacation spot,” Michelle Mittelstadt, spokesperson for MPI, mentioned in an e mail. “That mentioned, overseas employees may also be susceptible to abusive prerequisites at vacation spot, on the mercy of employers and recruiters.”

Decena and Hernandez mentioned the better-paying jobs in the USA assist them supply for his or her households.

“We’ve got desires for our circle of relatives and kids,” Hernandez mentioned in an e mail. “We would like them to have a greater long term.”

They and the opposite plaintiffs within the lawsuit allege they suffered abusive prerequisites whilst hired and housed via the corporate, and that discrimination performed a task.

Except Decena’s and Hernandez’s claims that they had been deserted on the bunkhouse right through Ida, in addition they allege deficient care and cramped quarters for the ones amongst them who had been quarantined on moored tugboats or provide vessels once they examined certain for COVID-19.

“Now not one medication, no longer one pill, no longer one diet. No one gave these items to us. We had been on our personal,” Hernandez instructed the AP.

A fifteen-year worker of the corporate, Hernandez mentioned there was once little meals when he arrived on the quarantine vessel.

“I drank juice and scorching water with salt to remedy my coughing,” he mentioned.

The corporate denied such allegations in its counterclaim filed Oct. 10, 2022.

“The houseboats and vessels that employees had been quarantined on have absolutely stocked kitchens, bedrooms, and loos,” the corporate submitting mentioned. “Breakfast, lunch and dinner for employees was once delivered via Defendants to all such quarantine websites.”

“GIS’ on-site health facility doctor automatically visited the ones in quarantine, doling out medication and tracking signs,” the submitting mentioned.

The lawsuit alleges that the corporate used threats of deportation to stay the employees from leaving the bunkhouse.

“All employees are unfastened to come back and pass as regularly as they want,” the corporate mentioned in its counterclaim.

Early on, the argument have been over whether or not the employees’ claims will have to be heard in U.S. federal court docket or whether or not the contracts the lads signed intended the claims needed to be settled via arbitration within the Philippines.

The employees’ lawsuit says the Philippines’ company that administers arbitration would possibly not put into effect prison treatments known as for in U.S. legislation, and that the arbitration procedure is corrupt.

“We would like a fairer remedy,” Hernandez mentioned within the AP interview. “We all know that the device right here is best.”

In a Sept. 23, 2022, ruling in New Orleans, U.S. District Pass judgement on Carl Barbier mentioned the employees’ disputes over wages — they declare the corporate didn’t pay promised charges and denied them extra time for classes once they had been successfully on name for offshore paintings — can be topic to arbitration within the Philippines. Barbier allowed the U.S. court docket case to continue involving the allegations that the lads had been confined to the bunkhouse and handled unfairly, claims invoking U.S. human trafficking and honest housing legislation.

The employees’ lawsuit seeks class-action standing — that means, if Barbier concurs, it could duvet more or less 90 different Filipino males who labored for Grand Isle Shipyard. A victory would imply unspecified damages paid to the employees for the alleged human trafficking and honest housing allegations.

Grand Isle Shipyard is looking for damages, too, accusing the employees of constructing false allegations they declare had been “maliciously fabricated” and may lift prison implications that may injury the corporate.

In its counterclaim, Grand Isle Shipyard mentioned it came upon that two of the plaintiffs within the lawsuit — who like Hernandez and Decena had been mentioned to be amongst a large number of employees stranded within the bunkhouse when Ida hit — had been in truth within the Philippines on the time of the typhoon. Attorneys for the employees have since filed an amended model of the lawsuit, retaining the 2 as plaintiffs over dwelling prerequisites and wages however casting off the declare that they had been with Hernandez, Decena and different employees within the bunkhouse on the time of the typhoon.

Grand Isle Shipyard has no longer granted telephoned requests for interviews or remark.

The employees are represented via legal professional Daniel Werner in Georgia and legal professionals with the Tulane College Regulation Health center.

Related Press reporter Jim Gomez in Manila contributed to this document.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This subject matter is probably not revealed, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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