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Recruiter deploying DHs to Russia fined for overcharging

16 January 2018

By Vir B. Lumicao

A Filipina co-owner of an unlicensed recruitment agency that has been sending Hong Kong-based domestic workers to Russia was convicted on Jan. 5 of overcharging a client, and ordered to pay a total of $22,000: $12,000 in compensation and $10,000 in fine.

Gilda Flores Li, who jointly owns Quality Consultants Agency with her husband, was also warned by Magistrate Andrew Mok Tze-chung to make the payment within three months, or face a jail term.

However, the $12,000 compensation she was ordered to pay Filipina domestic worker Jean Lorena Sheel was $8,000 less than what she took from the maid, who had applied for a domestic helper job in Russia.

This was because the magistrate found that Li had paid US$1,000 to a Russian company for a second invitation to Sheel, after the first one had to be scrapped because of an error.

The invitation was meant to be used for securing a commercial visa for Sheel, even if what she had applied for was to work as a maid in Russia.

Li pleaded not guilty on Jan 2 to three counts of “receiving payment other than the prescribed commission” from domestic worker Jean Lorena Sheel, who was applying for a domestic helper job in Russia.

 “I don’t find the defendant a credible and reliable witness. I do not accept that QCA, of which she is a partner, is not an employment agency,” Mok said in returning his verdict.

Quality Consultants used to be licensed by the Employment Agencies Administration but its name no longer appears in EAA’s list updated as of Dec. 17, 2017.

Neither is Quality Consultants licensed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, contrary to its claim in its Facebook page, where it also openly recruits for jobs in Russia, Mongolia, New Zealand and Spain.

 Sheel, testifying on the first day of the trial, said Li charged her $20,000, of which she paid $11,000 in cash on March 5 last year, $4,000 on April 9 and $5,000 that she deposited in Li’s HSBC account on April 25.

Giving evidence on Jan 4, Li claimed that the $20,000 she charged Sheel was not a placement fee.

She said $10,000 was payment for an invitation letter issued by a firm in Moscow that the maid needed in applying for a commercial visa to Russia, and $10,000 to cover the cost of visa, air ticket, and room and board if Sheel got terminated after her first month there. 

The magistrate said Sheel’s evidence was clear and credible. He noted from her evidence that Li told her the first monthly salary as a helper would be $9,000 to $10,000.

He said taking into account the US$1,000 paid for the invitation letter, the commission was still more than the 10% provided under the regulation.

“Having considered all the evidence, I find the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the charges,” Mok said.

The labour prosecutors told the magistrate that Sheel was applying for damages and claims totaling $20,000, and Mok asked the defendant if she had any objection.

“I’m just a poor company. I don’t know the regulation. I don’t know if I have money,” Li replied tearfully, asking the magistrate if she could pay the compensation in installments.

The magistrate said he saw no reason to mitigate the sentences, which were a maximum of $50,000 for each offense. But after taking into consideration Li’s clear record, he said, he was imposing a $5,000 fine for the first charge, $3,000 for the second charge, and $2,000 for the third.

Mok then ordered that Li’s payment of US$1,000 to the Russian company for a second invitation be deducted from Sheel’s $20,000 damage claim, leaving the maid with just $12,000 in compensation.

Li’s conviction ended a four-day trial during which Sheel, the first of five prosecution witnesses, spoke of how the defendant charged her $20,000 for a domestic helper job in Russia.

Sheel said she withdrew her application after waiting in vain for a second invitation to replace the one with a wrong birth year that would have invalidated her application for a commercial visa to Russia.

In their evidence and during cross-examination, both Sheel and Li brought to light how agencies offering OFWs purported jobs in Russia and other places send the workers there without any job contracts and no employers waiting for them.

Sheel testified that Li would at first get her a commercial visa that was good for three months, and once she got to Russia, she would be housed by a Russian agency that would find her an employer for a fee, or find one on her own.

After the commercial visa expires, the worker will have to apply for a work visa.

The practice is under fire from the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, which has repeatedly warned that third-country deployment is illegal under Philippine law.

Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre has also urged Hong Kong authorities to clamp down on the practice of sending Filipino workers to non-existent jobs in Russia and other places abroad, saying this amounts to human trafficking.

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