Hospital drawn into indictment for exploitation of Filipina nurses

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Prosecutors in Oslo have indicted both Oslo University Hospital and a couple who arranged jobs at the hospital for three nurses from the Philippines who are believed to have been seriously exploited. The couple, initially charged with human trafficking, is now charged with violating immigration laws and exploiting the three women, with the hospital as an accomplice.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday that the indictments were handed down before Christmas but lawyers for both the couple and the three nurses said they haven’t received them yet. Gro Wildhagen, who represents the Filipina nurses, told Aftenposten she may complain that the indictments reportedly no longer involve human trafficking and forced labour, since the nurses are believed to have been victims of both.

Defendants face two years in jail
The charges against the couple, a Norwegian man and his Filipina wife, and the hospital remain serious and involve potential prison terms of up to two years. The case against them first came to light last spring, after the nurses had confided in colleagues at the hospital that they had a difficult living situation and were heavily in debt to the couple who had arranged their jobs at the hospital.

A nurses’ union representative took contact with the women and was told that they’d had to borrow NOK 300,000 to cover the costs of their move to Norway and the couple’s alleged costs of their employment. The nurses claim they were forced to pay high rent to the couple to live in a flat they owned in Oslo, that they also were forced to pay several thousand kroner a month to the man, a furniture dealer, for the language instruction he gave them, and that they weren’t given control over their own income. They also claim they were prevented from having contact with others from the Philippines in Oslo and that they were told not to discuss their working situation with anyone.

The union representative told Aftenposten that the women, who declined to be interviewed themselves, thought the hospital and the man were working together and they thus hadn’t dared to question their work situation at the hospital.

‘Very serious’
Police lawyer Hans Petter Pedersen Skurdal said the hospital, which needed nurses, had viewed the man as a representative for the Filipina nurses but should have had much better routines to make sure the women weren’t being exploited.

Bjørn Erikstein, managing director of the hospital, said he views the case as “very serious” and believes all involved will be best-served by having the case heard in a Norwegian court. “We have been very clear in acknowledging that this isn’t how the hospital should have carried out recruitment,” Erikstein told Aftenposten. Hospital routines already have been reviewed and improved, he said.

Skurdal said the initial charges of human trafficking against the Norwegian man and his Filipina wife, who were briefly held in custody last spring, were later dropped because police could find no evidence of “enough” forced labour or pressure in accordance with Norwegian law against such practices. He said immigration law itself would cover the alleged offenses in the case.

The three nurses were initially put on leave while police investigated their claims, and are now back at work at the hospital. An attorney for the couple told Aftenposten he was surprised an indictment had been handed down against his clients, because “in this case, there hasn’t occurred anything punishable by law at all.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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