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OFWs overcharged by agencies urged to back up claims

31 March 2016

By Vir B. Lumicao
Labor Attaché Jalilo dela Torre

Remittance slips, bank payment slips and financing loan agreements are just some of the documents that Filipino domestic workers can submit to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office to prove a claim of overcharging against their recruitment agency.
This was what new labor attaché Jalilo dela Torre told The SUN during an interview on the day he assumed his post on Mar 16.
De la Torre urged the workers to substantiate their claims so his office could go after the rogue agencies.
The Hong Kong government, meanwhile, reiterated that it does not require domestic workers to go through employment agencies.
The Labour Department also emphasized in a statement on Mar 15 that local agencies are allowed to charge no more than 10% of the first month’s salary of the helpers under Hong Kong laws. It urged those who have been overcharged by agencies to file complaints with the department.
“The debts owed by FDHs might be related to the charging of intermediary or training fees back in (their) home countries before they come to Hong Kong. This issue needs to be tackled at source,” the department said, adding it has been in talks with the Philippine and Indonesian governments on ways to alleviate the helpers’ debt burden.
In the interview, De la Torre said, “I would like the Hong Kong government and the Philippine Consul General to closely cooperate in substantiating these complaints, kasi if they remain to be complaints not written down, hindi namin maaksiyunan,” De la Torre said.
He also appealed to Filipino workers here who are facing such problems “to substantiate their complaints in the form of affidavits” so that he could discipline both the Hong Kong and Philippine agencies involved.
“Madali lang kasi because we have the authority to suspend the processing of their documents. Ang suspension itself of the agencies does not belong to us, it belongs to the POEA, but we can suspend the processing of their documents,” De la Torre said.
He started his first day at work by paying a courtesy call on Consul General Bernadita Catalla, then met his staff at POLO, before paying a visit to the Filipino Workers Resource Center, the Consulate’s shelter for distressed migrants.
During his visit to the shelter run by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, he interviewed some of the helpers who moved there after their contracts were prematurely terminated. One of them, a long-time resident named Amal from Nueva Vizcaya, had suffered a stroke.
“Ang sabi ko sa mga shelter wards natin kanina, ‘Mas gusto ko pang umuwi na lang kayo, sa piling ng inyong mga pamilya,” Dela Torre said.  
Coinciding with the new labatt’s arrival was a statement from the Hong Kong government, reiterating its commitment to protect the rights of foreign domestic helpers.
“Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world which grant statutory labour rights and benefits to FDHs, same as those enjoyed by local workers,” the statement said in response to media enquiries on foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong.
 “Both the Government and the Hong Kong community do not tolerate any abuse or exploitation of FDHs. The Government has been encouraging FDHs to file reports with the authorities and to act as prosecution witness if they have been or suspect that they are subject to abuse or exploitation (e.g. underpayment of wages and non-granting of statutory holidays),” it said.
The government vowed that the authorities would thoroughly investigate all reported cases and promptly prosecute if there was sufficient evidence.

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