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Beware. Be Aware.

26 September 2017

By Cynthia Tellez

The Mission is currently assisting victims in filing cases against the owner of an agency who promised them jobs in another country that turned out to be inexistent. Sadly, many of our fellow migrants are lured by catch phrases such as “permanent residency” and “you can petition your family”.

Swindlers prey on such simple dreams of migrant workers. Of course, if there is just the slightest chance to bring their family with them abroad, most would grab at such a “golden opportunity”. Unfortunately, this often leads to misery because all that the worker gets is an empty promise from a recruiter who knew how to target their most vulnerable spot.

The usual scheme is to place advertisements or distribute promotional materials convincing potential applicants to apply for placement in other countries. Other agencies or recruiters offer another route: via student visa application. However it is done, the best rule of thumb to protect oneself is to always determine the authenticity of the job offer.

This article aims to provide some pointers for migrants to avoid being victimized. Here are some steps they can take:

1) As the usual warning goes, always verify if the recruitment agency has a valid license to conduct business, particularly for job placements to the countries they cite. The license issued to any business is usually very specific and shows the kind and scope of business and operations it is allowed to do. For example, their license may not allow them to recruit for overseas work, but is only limited to domestic (or local) placement.

2) Verify the authenticity of the job orders (if any). If no job order is shown, beware! It might be just a scheme to swindle money from applicants. Usually, job orders are authenticated by receiving governments. This is an added information that applicants need to know aside from the business permits issued by the local government where the agency is principally based. In sum, applicants should know the authenticity of both the business permit and the job order issued by the country destination.

3) There are times when the arrangement is with a school or a registered institution in the country destination. For example, it can be a school or a college that can issue a student visa but with an additional incentive like giving permission to work at certain number of hours while studying. Again, it has to be verified whether such a policy exists because in some destination countries a foreign student’s right to work has already been revoked or substantially curbed, yet unscrupulous agencies still actively promote the revoked policy.

4) It would be an additional assurance for a job applicant to get a relative, friend or trusted person to verify the job order in the destination country. This way, the applicant will know right away if the job offer should be pursued.

5) In the absence of friends and relatives, applicants may approach church-based or non-church based service providers or NGOs who may have counterpart service providers in the country destination. Or these groups might have individual contacts in the target countries who can be mobilized to help secure the needed information.

6) Do not be enticed by sweet talk. No matter how nice the job prospect being peddled to you, the final decision is still yours. Before making a decision, be sure that you have considered and studied, as much as possible, all angles before accepting the offer.  Remember that your decision will have a lasting effect on your future as well as with your family and loved ones.

7) In case you were already recruited but are still in doubt, be sure to gather enough evidence or proof before making the final plunge. This way, you will not jeopardize your chances of filing a case should it become necessary, and the dubious recruiter will not have a chance to cover up his or her misdeed.  Do not be selective when gathering evidence. It might even be just a piece of paper with hand written instructions by a staff or employee of the agency, a phone number of contact person, or an address in the country destination as their contact. Text messages from the recruiter or agency staff about arrangement, especially pertaining to mode of payment, are also very telling. Gather the contact numbers of fellow applicants as potential witnesses or co-complainants if ever.

It would be good to ask a friend or a willing witness to go with you in the succeeding visits to the agency or appointment with the recruiter. The witness will play a very important role in case the transaction is determined to be fraudulent and you need to file a claim or case against the recruiter.

Before taking any legal action, it would be good to ask for assistance from service providers you know. They will help you seek legal or professional advice, or advise you where to file your case, or what steps you could take to speed up the proceedings. Remember that if you took the wrong steps or procedure in acting on your complaints, you may not be able to take them back anymore. It’s good if corrective measures are still possible; if not, you might have already lost your case before it could begin.

If you decide to seek assistance from a service provider, be sure to bring along all the evidence you gathered as well as your witnesses (if more than one) for proper assistance in making a statement. All these pieces of evidence and witnesses’ statement(s) will be evaluated by lawyers in determining the proper steps to take.

Fraud or scheme to deceive people for monetary gain is a serious matter and should not be taken lightly. Service providers like the Mission are prepared to provide assistance. Lawyers must be consulted every step of the way in filing civil claims or criminal cases. But the success of the  victim’s case lies in the preparation, from collecting all possible documentary evidence to preparing witnesses, even before deciding on what cases should be filed against the erring recruiter or agency. Bear in mind that recruiters know what they are doing and are usually prepared for any eventuality.

Prevention is always better than cure. So beware of fraud. Be aware of the techniques of swindlers and illegal recruiters. Be aware also of ways to protect yourself.

Your employer must provide YOU (worker) a free passage from your place of origin to Hong Kong and another free passage to your place of origin once your contract is prematurely terminated or is completed (finished contract).  Free passage is specified under the SEC’s Clause-7(a).

An airfare or an air ticket is the most common and fastest way for you to return to your place of origin. Employers provide an economy air ticket or equivalent cash.

The airfare or the air ticket must be based on your place of origin, which is written on the SEC’s Clause-1.

However, there are instances when employers and/or through agencies provide an air ticket with Hong Kong-Manila route only even if your place of origin as stated in the SEC’s Clause-1 is somewhere else. That is also why it is important that you state your exact home address in the said Clause.

Many times, the agency writes in the contract as your place of origin the place where you stayed as transient during your application, which is either in Metro Manila or the city/town center in your province. This makes it easier for them to process and follow-up your documents for deployment to Hong Kong. Doing so will compromise your right to free passage back to your place of origin. Remember, you must ensure that what is written in your SEC’s Clause-1 as your place of origin should be the address where you reside. This is relevant as well to your daily food and traveling allowance under Clause 7 which will be discussed later in this article.

When settling your entitlements upon end/termination of contract, do take note that when your employer has not paid you all that you are entitled to and you have no other recourse than to pursue your claims through the Labour Department or HK courts, it is not advisable to accept an air ticket yet. Because once you accept an air ticket and you still have not received other payments due you, the air ticket can either expire or you may have to pay a rebooking fee that amounts to a few hundred dollars. As your employer has already fulfilled her/his obligation under your SEC’s Clause 7(a) by issuing you an air ticket that you have duly accepted, you can no longer claim a replacement even if other claims are still under dispute.

Daily Food and Traveling Allowance
It is also clearly stated in the contract that your employer must pay you a daily food and traveling allowance amounting to HK$100 per day, from the date of your departure from your place of origin until the date of your arrival in Hong Kong, traveling by the most direct route. The same payment must be paid to you by your employer on your return to your place of origin, whether your contract is prematurely terminated or completed (finished contract). Daily food and traveling allowance is laid down under SEC’s Clause-7(b).

However, there are instances when employers only pay the worker one way, such as at the end of the contract only. If your employer has not paid you the daily food and traveling allowance of HK$100 when you arrived, you are entitled to claim it.  Oftentimes, this is being overlooked.

If your travel from your place of origin to Hong Kong takes more than a day, and your travel back to your place of origin is the same, it is your employer’s obligation to provide you a daily food and traveling allowance calculated by how many days your travel took. Again, you have the right to claim it. This shows the importance of ensuring that your place of origin is correctly written on Clause-1 of your contract, and why your first day of employment is from the time you took the ride going to Hong Kong.

Start of Contract
It is not unusual that upon your arrival in Hong Kong, the agency takes you to the Immigration Department for registration to get a Hong Kong Identity Card, then to a clinic for another medical check up, maybe, and to many other places to comply with the requirements set either by the employer or by the agency itself. Keep copies of whatever documents you should have (like medical certificate) especially those that you signed. A day or so (sometimes several days) after, your employer picks you up to bring you to their house. Many times, they consider it as the first day of work. This is wrong. Your day of arrival is the first day of the contract. That is your first day of work. Fulfilling the requirements of the Hong Kong government is part of the working days. More so if the days are used to do other requirements imposed by the employer or the agency (remember, the agency is an extension of your employer until you finally are in your employer’s house). Those days are not to be reckoned as unpaid days off.

Never forfeit your right to free passage and daily food and traveling allowance upon arrival from your place of origin and upon your departure back to your home. Know when the contract starts.

It is best to read through the clauses in your contract and to understand them.

Ask when in doubt. Do not presume. Keep a diary so you will not forget important events and circumstances.

Should you have any queries or concerns on the above matters, it is best to consult service providers for migrants such as the Mission For Migrant Workers ( 2522 8264) or the Labour Department branch near your place of work.
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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