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3 Pinay ‘drug mules’ sentenced to 21-24 years in jail

Posted on 20 August 2018 No comments
Hong Kong's High Court 

By Vir B. Lumicao

Three Filipinas convicted of drug-related charges for bringing four kilos of cocaine into Hong Kong in September 2015 have been sentenced to between nearly 21 and 24 years in jail at the High Court.

Shirley Chua, Remelyn Roque and Ana Louella Creus were all sobbing even before Judge Audrey Campbell-Moffat of the Court of First Instance meted out the sentences at half past noon on Monday, Aug 20, after their lawyers argued for lenient sentences.

One of the suitcases where the cocaine was found
Chua was convicted of trafficking in a dangerous drug but acquitted of conspiracy to traffic the illegal substance at the end of a jury trial on Nov 14 last year. Roque and Creus were found guilty of conspiring to traffic in a dangerous drug.

A fourth co-accused, Maricel Thomas, was acquitted after trial on Nov 14.

Before sentencing, lawyers for the three cited a letter from the Philippine Consulate General saying that the vital information provided by the defendants during video recorded interviews had stopped cocaine trafficking from Manila to Hong Kong.

During mitigation, Roque’s counsel tried to contest the verdict, saying her client was convicted without the jury being able to establish a conspiracy beyond reasonable doubt. She also cited the vital information her client gave Philippine anti-drug authorities that led to the arrest Nora Noora, who organized the Hong Kong trip of the four on Sept 25, 2015.   

But Campbell-Moffat disregarded the grounds cited, saying Roque was the recruiter of the other drug carriers for that trip, and that the jury had considered her role and the large volume of phone messages between her and Noora as well as the other defendants in convicting her.

The judge sentenced Roque to 22 years and 11 months in jail.

Chua, aged 46 at the time of her arrest three years ago, received a 20-year and 11-month sentence for drug trafficking.

Creus was sentenced to 24 years for her role in handing over two suitcases containing about 2 kilos of cocaine to two black men in a lift lobby in Chung King Mansions.
The judge gave a six-month discount in the sentence of each of the defendants for participating in an anti-drug trafficking campaign by correctional chaplain Fr John Wotherspoon. They also got a further 7% off their sentences for sharing information that led to the arrests in 2015 of Laguna-based Ugandan drug lord Rufus Katumba and his wife Marilyn Ramos.

Chua and Thomas were arrested on Sept 25, 2015, after their two suitcases yielded about 2 kilograms of cocaine during a Customs check at Hong Kong International Airport.

Customs officers pounced on Roque and Creus as they were about to board a flight back to Manila on Sept 27 after delivering two suitcases believed to contain a kilo each of cocaine to a consignee at Chung King Mansions in Tsimshatsui.

Thomas was acquitted of all charges.

The prosecution said the defendants conspired with Noora, who met with all four in Roque’s house in Cavite on Sept 23, 2015 and briefed them on their mission in Hong Kong.  Noora also booked their air tickets, provided them the four traveling bags containing the cocaine slabs, gave them $1,500 each shopping money and specific instructions to take the bags to Chung King Mansions.
Thomas joined the group at the last minute after a boyfriend of Noora changed his mind a day before departure, the court was told.

The four split in groups of two when they landed in Hong Kong and Roque and Creus went through Customs without any hitch. When Chua and Thomas went missing following their arrest, Noora kept in touch with Roque, giving directions regarding the delivery of the two suitcases.

Relatives of Creus, single and a dentist by profession, were in the gallery during the court session and approached the dock where the convicts were after the sentencing.  

Labatt suspends HK agency, helps DH recover bulk of illegal fee

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Labatt Romulo suspended an agency that stamped the
contract of an OFW who was charged illegal fees

By Vir B. Lumicao

A Hong Kong employment agency has been suspended by the Philippine Overseas Labor Office for acting as a sub-agent of a local agency that had allegedly charged a newly arrived Filipina helper a $12,500 “placement fee.”

An official of the suspended agency also returned $5,000 of the $7,500 that Olga Pereira had already paid, and handed back her passport during a meeting in the office of Labor Attaché Nida Romulo on Aug 19.

Romulo did not identify the agency that had stamped (or allowed its name to be used) in the employment contract of Pereira, but the domestic worker named it as Top Wealth Employment Agency, which has its offices in Blissful Building on Des Voeux Road, Central.

The owner of Vast Sky Employment Ltd, which placed Pereira in Hong Kong on Apr 11, did not show up at the Polo meeting.

“We suspended the processing of contracts from that agency (Top Wealth) on the very day the worker came here to file a complaint,” said Romulo in an interview. “It acted as a sub-agent and the owner knows that is against the undertaking that it had signed with Polo,” she said.

Romulo would not say how long the suspension would be, saying that will be determined by her superiors.

She said workers who are overcharged by agencies should not be afraid to come out and file a complaint at POLO.

“We will act immediately against any agency once we receive a complaint,” she said.

An amendment in February this year of laws governing employment agencies in Hong Kong has criminalized the overcharging of placement fees, with the maxium penalty set at three years imprisonment and fine of up to $350,000.

Pereira complained to POLO on Aug 12 that Vast Sky had demanded that she pay $5,000 by Aug 14, on top of the $7,500 that she had already paid. She told Romulo that she paid the agency $2,500 cash upfront in Manila, and made two monthly payments of $2,500 each to the agency when she arrived in Hong Kong.

Pereira also told Romulo that the agency had kept her passport as a security for the illegal fees.

A check by Romulo found out that Vast Sky, which operates from Seven Seas Shopping Centre in North Point, was not accredited by Polo. On finding that Top Wealth had stamped the worker’s contract, Romulo called the company’s representative to her office.

She also advised the worker that she can report Vast Sky to the Employment Agency Administration for overcharging and keeping her travel document.

When Polo called up an executive of Vast Sky to tell him about the complaint, he in turn rang Pereira and told her how upset he was about her move. The worker said the agency representative had offered to waive the remaining $5,000 and invited her to the agency on Aug 19 to settle the issue, but Romulo told the worker not to go.

“We’ll ask them to come here, don’t go to the agency,” Romulo said.

The agency executive also reportedly contacted Pereira’s employer to tell him about the worker’s complaint. But instead of siding with the agency, the male employer told the helper not to worry because he knew the payment was illegal.

Huwag magsanla ng pasaporte!

Posted on 19 August 2018 No comments

Ganoon na lang ang gulat at takot ni Rosemary nang may tumawag sa kanya sa telepono noong ika-14 ng Agosto at nagpakilala na isang pulis ng Hong Kong. Tinanong siya kung nangutang ba siya sa isang tao na nangangalang Edgar, at ibinigay ang kanyang pasaporte bilang pang-seguro. Dahil sa takot ay sinagot niya ito ng “No”, gayong alam niya na may pinahiram siya ng kanyang pasaporte para gamitin ito sa pangungutang. Dali-dali niyang tinawagan ang kanyang kaibigan na nanghiram ng kanyang pasaporte, at doon niya nalaman na nahuli ng mga pulis ang “kuya” na pinagsanlaan nito ng passport niya noong nakalipas na araw, ika-13 ng Agosto, sa North Point. Agad-agad niyang tinawagan ang tinawag nitong “kuya” na isang Intsik, pero hindi na nag-ring ang telepono nito. Ayon sa balita, hinuli ang Intsik at pati ang katulong nito na isang Pilipina din dahil sa pagpapautang na ang tubo ay umaabot sa 120 percent, doble sa legal na interes. Tarantang taranta si Rosemary at hindi malaman ang gagawin. Iyon ang unang pagkakataon na pumasok siya sa ganoong transaksyon, na hindi pa siya mismo ang nangangailangan. Kung tutuusin, maliit lang naman ang perang kailangan ng kaibigan niya at marami naman itong kakilala na pwede niyang malapitan para mangutang, pero hindi niya alam kung bakit agad siyang nagpadala sa pakiusap nito. Mabuti na lang at wala sa Hong Kong ang mga amo niya na kapwa guro dahil umpisa na ng bakasyon ng mga estudyante, kaya agad siyang nakapunta sa Konsulado para humingi ng payo. Pagkatapos siyang pakinggan ni Danny Baldon ng assistance to nationals section ay sinabihan siyang gumawa ng salaysay, at saka pinag-affidavit para makuha niya ang bagong pasaporte niya na nakatakdang ilabas sa ika-3 ng Setyembre. Kailangan kasi na ipakita ang lumang pasaporte bago ibigay ang bago. Tinanong ni Rosemary ang opisyal kung nai-report na sa kanila ang mga pangalan ng mga nagsanla ng pasaporte, at sinabi sa kanyang hindi pa. Gayunpaman, hindi na rin naman maibabalik ang mga nasamsam na pasaporte dahil gagawin itong ebidensya kapag kinasuhan na si Edgar na usurero, at pati ang katulong nitong Pilipina na ayon sa pulis ay tumutulong na kumuha ng kliyente para dito. Tinawagan ni Rosemarie ang isa pang tumulong sa kanya at tinanong kung kokontakin daw ba ng mga pulis ang kanyang amo para sabihing isinanla niya ang kanyang pasaporte. Saka lang siya nakahinga ng maluwag nang sabihin na malamang na hindi dahil pribabong transaksiyon naman ang pangungutang, at tanging ang mga kolektor lang naman ang laging nagsusumbong sa amo para pilitin ang isang katulong na magbayad. Gayunpaman, nangako si Rosemarie sa sarili na hinding hindi na niya gagamitin o ipapagamit ang pasaporte sa iba, sa pangungutang man o sa iba pang bagay. Ayon na rin sa payo sa kanya, ang pasaporte ay pag-aari ng pamahalaan ng Pilipinas, at hindi dapat ipagamit ng isang pinagkalooban lang nito. Nakatulong din ang nangyari para mapagtanto niya na ang isang tunay na kaibigan ay hindi gagawa ng anumang ikakapahamak niya. - Rodelia Villar

What happens when your employer dies owing you?

Posted on No comments
By Vir B. Lumicao

What will happen if your employer dies?

Ordinarily, this ends your employer-employee relationship. And based on that, you can find a new employer and have your papers processed without having to leave Hong Kong.

But what it your employer owes you your salary and long-service pay.

For two Filipinas, the answer needs to come from the court, because they have failed to find a relative of their deceased employer who could help them claim more than $100,000 in unpaid wages and other money due them.

The question also goes beyond the jurisdiction of the Labour Tribunal, so their case was transferred to the District Court.

Cleofe Quintella and Amalia Tongga returned to the Labour Tribunal on Aug 7 for a hearing of their claim against the estate of the late Fung Yuk-mei, who took her own life in January.

Presiding Officer Eric Tam told the two domestic helpers that since no executor or administrator of Fung’s assets had come forward, he was transferring their case to the District Court.

Tam told the claimants they would have to find a solicitor who would represent them there in pursuing their claim against the estate of the deceased.

Quintella and Tongga’s claims were first heard at the Tribunal on Apr 6, but no representative came on behalf of the late employer, who was said to be single and childless.

Presiding officer Catherine Cheng told the claimants their case could not be heard until they found out who was Fung’s estate executor or administrator.

The two went to the Probate Registry in Admiralty to find out if anyone had applied for a probate of Fung’s assets, but their search was futile.

Quintella, who had worked for Fung since 1982, is claiming a total of $65,438 for three months of arrears in wages, long service pay, unused statutory holidays, annual leave and air ticket.

Tongga, who is claiming $41,039 for one month’s unpaid wages, long service pay, unused statutory holidays and air ticket, said she began working for Fung in 1985.

The two told the Tribunal the claims were computed by Labour officers who they consulted after Fung was found dead in her bedroom on Jan. 29 with a pan of burnt charcoal beside her.

Tongga said Fung had been living alone when she hired them. Fung’s only relative was a niece, who allegedly told them she knew nothing about her aunt’s assets.

The Filipina told the court that police investigators had collected cash and jewelry they found in Fung’s room, as well as a letter whose contents were not disclosed to them.

Pinays in online sex case ‘ready to plead guilty’

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All five defendants in an online sex ring, including two Filipinas, have decided to plead guilty to the charges against them, Eastern Court was told on Aug. 10.

But Magistrate Peter Law said there was a parallel investigation still being conducted in connection with the case, but did not elaborate.

The statements were made in court as Filipinas Joan Palpal-latoc, 40, and Jeanette Gallego, 47, again appeared on charges of “living on the earnings of prostitution of others.”

Charged with them are their 69-year-old employer identified only as “Ms Wong,” her 72-year-old sister, and a local man. All three are out on bail.

The Filipinas who are detained, chose not to follow up on their application for bail, even after prosecutors lifted their opposition to their bid at a hearing on Aug. 10.

Thus, Magistrate Peter Law ordered the pair back in jail, and to return on Sept. 7 for the next hearing of their case.

The two had earlier offered to post bail of $25,000 each, but the prosecution opposed the application, citing their lack of local ties and arguing they were a flight risk.

No reason was given in court as to why the paid did not renew their bail bid.

Prosecution decided to drop its opposition to granting bail to the two when prodded by magistrate Law, who asked why the defendants were still being held while their case had been stuck in court for three months.

Palpal-latoc and Gallego  who had been in Wong’s employ since 2009, were arrested during a police raid on May 15 while allegedly manning the computer terminals in a flat on the 43rd floor of Tavistock II residential block on Tregunter Path in Mid-Levels.

Their three co-defendants were arrested with them at the time.

Their defense lawyer said Palpal-latoc and Gallego only had minor roles in the operation as they were not allowed to collect money from clients, among other duties.—VBL

Research of NGOs reveals most of FDW wage spent on expenses in HK

Posted on No comments
Agency and loan payments rise, remittance takes a dive

(For this issue, we will reprint a statement issued by the Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) and the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) on their joint research on where the salaries of foreign domestic workers go – Ed)

By Cynthia Tellez

A research study by the two Hong Kong-based NGOs released today (Aug 6) on how foreign domestic workers typically spend their monthly wage showed that expenses paid to HK businesses and services take three-fifths (3/5) of their salary, leaving only about HK$1700 for family remittance and savings.

The “Where Do Your Wages Go?” Research on the Expenditures of Migrant Domestic Workers in Hong Kong was conducted by MFMW and APMM in 2017 and surveyed more than 1000 FDWs on how their monthly wage is typically allocated. The survey was a follow-up to a similar study done by the two organizations in 2013.

On the general expenditures of FDWs
Results of the research revealed that most of the wage of FDWs are spent paying for agency fees and loans related to paying charges by recruitment agencies. At 36 percent, it is higher than remittance to family, which makes up 32 percent of their total expenses.

Meanwhile, cumulative expenses for food, communications, clothing and accessories, transportation, toiletries and donations accounted for 23 percent, while savings (if there are) is at 9 percent.

There was a marked difference in the expense pattern as compared to the 2013 study where half was spent on remittance. The almost 22 percent rise in expenses on payment to recruitment and loan agencies has eaten up on the remittance that is supposed to support their families back in their home country.

Most of FDW wage go back to HK businesses and economy
Taken together, around HK$2600 of the wage of FDWs of HK$4310 (current Minimum Allowable Wage) is spent in Hong Kong.

Agency fee and loan repayment constitute the chunk of this expense, showing still the prevalence of overcharging among agencies. Since more than 50 percent of FDWs are newly-arrived – as reflected by a study of the MFMW in 2015 – it can be inferred that many FDWs are still paying the fees charged to them upon deployment to HK.

Even loans can be attributed to agency problem as, either they are forcibly made in order to get more from FDWs while circumventing the legal policy in place for agency fee, or they are made precisely because agency fee eats up most of their salary, leaving very little for their own needs in Hong Kong and remittance to family.

It should be noted that these payments are made to HK-based recruitment and financing agencies.

Meanwhile, about HK$1600 per month is spent by each FDW for services or goods in Hong Kong. This makes them major consumers and patrons of Hong Kong goods and services, as their total consumption totals HK$562 million per month, or HK$6.75 billion per year.

When the wage is not enough
The dip in the remittance from the 2013 survey showed the impact of grossly high agency fees eating up on the capacity of FDWs to support their families. Instead of enabling FDWs to increase their remittance to their families due to the surging inflation in their home countries, forced obligation to agency and loan repayment make them either barely able to maintain their support, or even cut on their remittance.

Due to HK’s stringent policy towards FDWs, there is no way for them to increase their capacity to remit to their family even as they struggle to meet their expenses in Hong Kong.

While expenses for goods and services are already high, FDWs are also forced to spend on other necessities such communication, transportation, and donations. However, the most basic items such as food, clothing and accessories have increased. It can be inferred that FDWs tend to scrimp on expenses that are more flexible (e.g. using internet communication instead of phone cards, or reducing their mobility to reduce transport expense) in order to spend on the most basic items, as their monthly wage does not allow them to spend for all these.

Conclusion and Recommendation
Contrary to some beliefs that FDWs eat up HK resources, the research revealed that they are significant consumers and patrons of the Hong Kong economy.

While they come to Hong Kong to support their families back home, their condition dictates that most of their earnings are spent in HK, and thus contribute to the economic life of the city.

There is also a need to continue looking at agency malpractices and debt bondage as the findings showed. Such result is also consistent with the nature of cases handled by the MFMW reflected in its Service Report 2017.

From this study, MFMW and the APMM recommends that:
* The Minimum Allowable Wage should be increased to HK$5,500 as called for by FDW organizations
* Make the minimum allowable wage decision process more transparent
* Include migrant domestic workers in the Statutory Minimum Wage
* Actively address illegal recruitment and agency fees and related loans
* Create and implement an anti-human trafficking law in Hong Kong based on the UN Palermo Protocol standards.

About the Mission for Migrant Workers: 
The Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW Limited) of the St. John’s Cathedral is a leading
and trusted service provider and partner of Asian migrants and a committed advocate in
building a caring and inclusive Hong Kong society.

Established in 1981, the MFMW believes that migrant workers as integral to but marginalized in Hong Kong, deserve care, respect and protection of their rights. MFMW
provides crisis assistance services to FDWs in distress, empowers their communities, promotes harmony in households and works for a more multicultural and inclusive Hong Kong.

About the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants
The APMM is a pioneer in migrant empowerment programs in countries in Asia, Pacific and the Middle East. Established in 1984 with the help of the MFMW, APMM is instrumental in building migrant organisations across the region.

The APMM believes that empowered migrants are central in upholding migrants’ rights, instituting policies favorable to migrants and their families, and contributing to development that serves the people’s interests. For more than three decades, we have been with grassroots migrants in APME in championing and realizing grassroots migrant movement building through organizing, advocacy and research, solidarity and networking, women empowerment, policy engagement, and welfare services.

This is the monthly column from the Mission for Migrant Workers, an institution that has been serving the needs of migrant workers in Hong Kong for over 31 years. The Mission, headed by its general manager, Cynthia Tellez, assists migrant workers who are in distress, and  focuses its efforts on crisis intervention and prevention through migrant empowerment. Mission has its offices at St John’s Cathedral on Garden Road, Central, and may be reached through tel. no. 2522 8264.

Laging magmatyag laban sa mapagsamantala

Posted on No comments
Ni Vir B. Lumicao

Isang paraan upang mabuhay ka sa kagubatan ay ang maging mapagmatyag ka. Sa sandaling itinigil mo ang pagbabantay ay mabibiktima ka ng mga mapagsamantala.

Nakita namin ang kahalagahan ng aral na ito noong mga nakaraang araw, nang biguin ng 18 bagong OFW ang isang may-ari ng mga ahensiya rito sa balak na huthutan sila.

Ipinakita rin ng pangyayaring ito na may ibibunga ang pagkakaisa ang mga manggagawa.

Tinutukoy ko rito ang nabigong paniningil ni Tony Chan, manager diumano ng tatlong ahensiya sa Hong Kong, ng ilegal na bayarin sa mga kasambahay na dinala rito mula sa Maynila sa pagitan ng Marso at Mayo ng taong ito.

Si Chan ang kumakatawan sa Way Tech Consultant, Sacred Heart International Consultants, at Pacific Jet Consultants, ang tatlong ahensiya sa Hong Kong na nakasaad sa mga kontrata na siyang kumuha sa mga Pilipina.

Ang mga ahensiyang katuwang niya sa Pilipinas ay ang i-Employ Manpower Services, MIP Manpower Services at Infinity Manpower Services.

Bago umalis sa Maynila ang mga tao – ilan sa kanila ay nagmula pa sa Cebu at iba pang lugar sa Kabisayaan – pinalagda sila ng mga ahensiya sa Maynila ng PhP16,000 loan mula sa Ceazar Pacific Lending Co. sa Makati. Babayaran nila iyon ng $2,938 nang dalawang hulog sa Mutual Honour (Hong Kong) Ltd, isang nagpapautang sa Taipo.

Natuwa umano ang mga OFW dahil kailangang-kailangan din nila ang perang iiwanan sa mga pamilya, ngunit sinabi ng mga ahensiya sa Maynila na hindi ito para sa kanila. Iyon ay pambayad daw sa karagdagang “on the job training” nila sa Hong Kong.

Yaong mga umangal noong nasa Maynila pa ay tinakot umano ni Chan ng “no pay, no fly,” kaya napilitang pumirma ang lahat. Dahil sa pautang na iyon, humigit sa PhP60,000 ang nagugol ng bawat kasambahay sa pag-a-apply ng trabaho rito sa Hong Kong.

Ang ilan sa kanila ay nadoble pa ang binayaran sa training dahil pinagsanay daw sila sa Cebu at nagbayad sila ng PhP25,000 hanggang PhP26,000 at pagdating sa Maynila ay pinapunta uli sa training at nagbayad ng karadagang halaga.

Pagdating sa Hong Kong ay pinapirma naman sila kaagad ni Chan ng payment account sa 7-11 convenience stores at binigyan ng mga payment card. Gayunpaman, hindi nagbayad ang ilan dahil alam nilang ilegal iyon at saka walang matitira sa sahod nila.

Nang pinadalhan sila ng Mutual Honour ng paalala para sa pagbabayad ng utang at tinawagan ang kanilang mga amo ay naghanap sila ng tutulong sa kanila. Tumulong ang isang samahan ng mga OFW na siyang nagparating sa aming pahayagan ng problema ng mga kasambahay.

Inilapit naman namin sila sa Mission for Migrant Workers para magpatulong sa paghahanda ng mga reklamo at katibayan laban kay Chan at sa mga ahensiya. Ang ilang mga biktima ay sinamahan namin kay Labor Attaché Nida Romulo upang magsumbong.

Nang nalaman ni Chan na inireklamo siya ay nataranta ito at nangako sa isang kasulatang inihanda ng Philippine Overseas Labor Office na ibabalik niya ang ibinayad ng mga tao, buburahin ang mga “OJT loan” sa lending company sa Hong Kong at sa Maynila at hindi na sisingilin ang mga tao. 

Ngunit nakuha pa rin ni Chan na papirmahin ang mga tao sa isang nakasulat-kamay na waiver na sila ay kusang nag-enroll sa training program ng “Pacific Solar Enterprizes” at walang kinalaman doon ang kanyang mga ahensiya.

Nitong nakaraang Linggo, nang nakipagharap si Chan sa iba pang mga biktima sa POLO ay pinapirma naman sila ng kasulatang tumanggap sila ng tulong na perang $500 hanggang $1,200 mula sa mga Pilipina. Pumirma sila sa kasulatan, isang bagay na maaring nagpahina sa kanilang reklamo laban kay Chan.

Hindi pa malinaw ang kahihinatnan ng laban ng mga nabiktima ni Chan at maaari pa ring hindi niya malulusutan sa Labour Department ng Hong Kong at sa Philippine Overseas Employment Administration sa mga ilegal na paniningil niya dito at sa Pilipinas.

Ang pag-aalsa ng mga biktima laban kay Chan ay maaaring nagbabala sa mga iba pang ahensiya rito at sa Pilipinas na may mga katulad ding binabalak para sa mga OFW.

Kailangang maging mapagmatyag dahil nandiyan lang ang masisibang ahensiya sa tabi-tabi, umaaligid, naghihintay ng pagkakataong makapambiktima. 

Pinay accused of ‘being lazy’ gets $5k settlement

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A Filipina helper was paid $5,000 as settlement on Aug. 8 by her former employer who accused her of being lazy and could not speak Cantonese.

Marichu Soriano had sought severance pay of $8,000 from Chow Chu-kuem who terminated her on Jun 24 after more than three years in her employ, saying her services were no longer needed.

The helper had been paid other financial obligations like one month’s wage in lieu of notice, money for air ticket and travel/food allowance.

On top of these, severance pay could awarded in cases of redundancy.

At the Labour Tribunal, Chow told presiding officer Eric Tam she decided to let go of Soriano after realizing she “did not need her anymore”.

Soriano had allegedly become lazy and despite working for her for more than three years, could not speak Cantonese, Chow said.

“I used to do some of the work even if I was paying her,” she told Tam, showing off her hands, then sobbing.

At Tam’s suggestion, the two tried to reach settlement but could not agree initially because Chow was insisting on paying only $3,000.

Tam suggested $5,000 and Chow, after hesitating at first, eventually relented when prodded on by her son-in-law who was with her in court. – Vir B. Lumicao

DH falsely accused of theft pursues claim vs employer

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By Vir B. Lumicao

An employer who falsely accused her Filipina domestic worker of theft has opted for a trial of the $10,200 claim against her by the maid at the Labour Tribunal, instead of just paying up.

Joan Sham Yi-king told the Tribunal during a hearing of the case on Jul 31 that she would contest the claim of her former maid, Jackelyn Cornejo.

The Filipina was acquitted in Tuen Mun court on Jun 21 of stealing two rings from Sham. Before this, she spent 40 days in jail until the Mission for Migrant Workers bailed her out and gave her shelter.

Cornejo, 30, came to Hong Kong on Sept 8 last year for her first overseas employment, but decided to terminate her contract after just over two months because Sham and her mother allegedly subjected her to verbal abuse and treated her badly.

She said they provided her little food, made her work from 7am to 12 midnight, delayed paying her salary, gave her just two days off a month and on returning at night, made her do all the house chores.

The helper called the police on the evening of Nov 30, saying she could no longer take the maltreatment. The officers left when Sham said the helper needed only to write a termination letter. But as soon as the police had left, the employer told Cornejo she couldn’t leave unless she paid her a month’s salary.

The two went to an ATM at Siu Hong MTR station to get cash, but even after Cornejo had paid up, Sham still refused to let go of her so the maid ran away and sought refuge in a neighbor’s flat.

Sham then called the police, and caused them to arrest Cornejo on the trumped-up charge of stealing her two rings.

At the Tribunal, Presiding Officer Jacqueline Lee rebuked Sham after noticing the employer’s attempt to delay proceedings by first, denying that she received a registered letter from Cornejo; and second, by not bringing an important document with her to court.

“I want you to make sure, Ms Sham, and I want you also to make a copy of all the documents by Aug 7,” Lee told the defendant sternly. She said the case had been stuck in for too long and she did not want any more delay.

Cornejo is claiming a month’s wage of $4,310 in lieu of notice for constructive termination, a return of the $4,310 that Sham had forced her to pay so she could be released from her employment, a one-way plane ticket and $200 travel allowance.

During a conciliation hearing at the Labour Department earlier, Sham only agreed to pay the helper $3,117.18 for arrears in wages.

The rising cost of getting a job as domestic helper

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By Leo A. Deocadiz

Every Sunday, foreign domestic workers flood into Hong Kong’s parks, foot bridges and other public places to spend their day, and a growing portion of their income, on local businesses.

Of grave concern, however, is that payment for loans and agency fees is biting off 35.6 per cent of that income, according to a survey on spending habits conducted by the Mission for Migrant Workers and Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants. And since Hong Kong limits agency fees to 10 per cent of the first month’s salary (or $441 of the minimum allowable wage of $4,410), much of these fees are illegal.

It was not this way in the past, when the MAW was even lower. The share of loans and agency fees in the 2017 survey is almost triple the 13.30 per cent share that this expense registered in a similar survey conducted by the two NGOs in 2013.

Spending one’s day off on a rainy day in Central.
These figures confirm another report by MFMW in April that showed about half of the helpers were charged HK$5,000 to HK$10,000 by employment agencies to find them employers. Some were even charged as much as HK$22,000. These amounts were set in loan agreements that were signed in the helpers’ home countries to avoid being penalized under Hong Kong’s law that limits the amount that employment agencies can charge.

“Agency fee and loan repayment constitute the chunk of this expense, showing still the prevalence of overcharging practice of agencies,” said the report which summarized the findings of the survey, conducted in the summer of 2017. “Especially that more than 50 per cent of FDWs are newly-arrived… it can be inferred that many FDWs are still paying the fees charged to them upon deployment to HK.”

It added: “Even loans can be attributed to agency problem as either they are forcibly made in order to get more from FDWs while circumventing the legal policy in place for agency fee, or they are made precisely because agency fee eats up most of their salary, leaving very little for their own needs in Hong Kong and remittance to family.”

It concluded that FDHs “continue to be exploited through debt bondage by agencies. Yet, the Hong Kong government does not actively work to alleviate this issue, allowing human trafficking and exploitation to happen.”

Despite the survey showing rampant overcharging, only three employment agencies have been prosecuted by the Employment Agencies Administration (EAA) and convicted of overcharging so far this year.

In the latest conviction on July 25, My Friends Service Limited (My Friend) located in Tsuen Wan was fined $8,000 at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts for overcharging a foreign domestic helper (FDH).  The other agencies convicted of overcharging this year were Quality Consultants Agency located in Tsim Sha Tsui and Familia Employment Agency located in Tai Po.

Migrants groups’ leaders display the breakdown of FDH spending: Dolores Balladares, chairperson of the United Filipinos in Hiong Kong; Cynthia Ca Abdon-Tellez, general manager iof the Mission for Migrant Workers; Ramon Bultron, managing directorof Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM); and Sringatin, chairperson of Indonesian Migrant Workers Union. 
A government spokesman said prosecution also depends on overcharged helpers filing complaints. EAA thus invites them to call 2115 3667, or visit its office at unit 906, 9/F, One Mong Kok Road Commercial Centre, 1 Mong Kok Road, Kowloon.

The survey also showed that the job placement expenses have led to the share of remittances — the main reason the FDWs have left their families back home — to shrink . The 2013 survey showed that remittances accounted for 50.68 per cent of their income. By 2017, its share had shrunk to 31.7 per cent.

“Agency fees are not only a problem for migrant workers but also for the Hong Kong economy,” the report said. “When more money is spent repaying loans, workers have less to spend on goods and services as well as remittance to support their families back home.”

The survey showed that of the minimum allowable wage of $4,410 every month, $2,600 remained in Hong Kong. With an FDH population of 351,513, this translates to $914 million they spent monthly in Hong Kong, or almost $11 billion every year.

Of the other expenses tracked by the survey, 9 per cent went to savings, 6 per cent went to food, 4 per cent went to clothes and accessories, 3 per cent to communications, 2 per cent to transportation, 2 per cent to toiletries, 1 per cent to donations and 5 per cent to other expenses.

So even if they may be earning one of the lowest wages in Hong Kong, foreign domestic helpers pour billions into its economy, nourishing businesses that have sprouted to cater to their needs, according to the survey.

This is contrary to popular belief that they are a burden to the economy. “Migrant domestic workers are integral to the consumer and service-based economy that is Hong Kong,” the two non-government organizations said in their survey report.

MFMW general manager Cynthia Abdon-Tellez affirmed: “Yes, foreign domestic helpers come to Hong Kong to support their families, but they end up spending most of their wages in Hong Kong, and thus contribute to the economic life of the city.” 

This is in addition to their other — and better-known – contribution: taking care of their employers’ children and homes, so that both parents can pursue their own careers and thus double their household income.

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