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How to recover illegally collected placement fees

14 April 2016

This is a continuation of our November 2015 topic column on illegal agency fees. We traced the historical development of government policies and laws in imposing agency fees and why, despite the prohibition against the collection of placement fees under the 2006 POEA Guidelines for Filipinos taking up household service work overseas, they still find themselves indebted because of exorbitant and illegal agency fees.
We gave some pointers on what to do when you find yourself in such situation. The Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Hong Kong (POLO -HK) is the place to go to pursue the refund of illegal fees collected, or seek punishment for erring recruitment agencies.
Remember that the Hong Kong-based agency is the principal agency in the whole recruitment process from your application in the Philippines for job in Hong Kong and is therefore equally responsible to ensure legal procedures are observed in placing individual foreign workers. But take note that the Hong Kong government does not require any migrant worker to process their papers through a recruitment agency.
If your case/claim is to be referred to the POEA and you are returning home to the Philippines, you need the following:
1) Your detailed statement that will be attached to the "First Indorsement" issued by POLO-Hong Kong. Always remember to make sure that you have with you your detailed statement, which is an account of the process on how the illegal charges happened. This is a sort of a statement of facts and incidents that will prove your case, including instances where you might be forced to take up a loan. You can visit the Mission for Migrant Workers before you leave if you need any assistance.
2) Prepare all pieces of evidence that you can gather to prove your case and keep photocopies of them.
3) Make sure you have a copy of your employment contract and passport.
Bring all documents referring to the termination of contract if it is a case of premature termination. It should also carry with it your detailed statement relating to the contract termination.
Once in the Philippines, proceed to the POEA with all your documents. Make sure that what you submit to any government offices are photocopies only of your documents and if the original document is required, ask the particular office to make an official receipt of those documents.
Keep a diary of all these procedures that you are going through and organize your document files.
Your first visit to the POEA is important to note down as you are proving that you are serious in your claim. If you can, make sure to ask for the next appointment. If no definite date is given you, follow it up after a month. Take note of the name of officers who dealt with you, reference number, file number, Docket Number and all information that can trace your case when you follow up.
Many times, what discourages a claimant is the period of waiting. This is when you are most vulnerable to offers of small amount of money to appease you. This is actually an amicable settlement, which will prohibit you from pursuing your full contractual claims/case.
So we say, do not be too bothered by the waiting period. PREPARATION FOR EVERY VISIT AND FOLLOW-UP IS IMPORTANT but you should avoid thinking only of the case every minute of your life to the point of immobilizing you. Make a calendar, a schedule of these visits or appointments to be able to know when to pause from your daily chores/work /preoccupation and prepare for your next visit to pursue your case. Remember, you are claiming back what is yours that was taken away from you deceitfully.
The MFMW can also refer you to our partners in the Philippines such as Migrante International who can provide guidance through its Rights and Welfare Assistance Program (RWAP).
When we come across such agency fees-related problems at the Mission with kababayans who are still employed, one of our initial suggestions would be to let the employer know about the situation as it is your responsibility to explain how it all happened so they will understand your difficulty. In many cases, in the absence of such explanations, some employers tend to generalize that their workers are simply "fond of borrowing money". In this situation where the loans are made upon arrangement of recruitment agencies, this is not true.  To be able to address this problem without jeopardizing your employment, tell your employer the story especially if you are one who was forced to borrow money at the very last minute (a few days before your departure) you may yet be able to make your employer understand a stark reality in overseas migration.
So if you wish to pursue your claim but are unable to return home because of your job, you should assign a person that you know is knowledgeable or well informed about the process, as well of the details of your story.  So, together with the "First Indorsement", you should make an affidavit with help from the assistance to nationals (ATN) section of the Philippine Consulate General (PCG-HK) giving your representative a "Special Power of Attorney" to act on your behalf in filing such claims and making decisions at any given time. Thus, in choosing such representative, s/he should be someone you definitely trust in:
- answering questions related to the details of your case;
- consulting with you or with any legal/paralegal officers any time it is needed; and
- making decisions  when necessary.
At the Mission, we connect you with our network to ensure that you have someone to consult with when you decide to pursue your case; because apart from claiming back illegal agency fees, the agency is solidarily liable with your former employer in Hong Kong for any unpaid wages and contractual obligations. If you are able to prove that the termination of your contract is not your fault, or that it was because you had committed a crime, you may claim all benefits that are due you, subject to the existing policy on migrant workers.


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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.

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