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Tougher sanctions on errant recruiters hailed

05 March 2018

By Daisy CL Mandap

Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre has lauded the Hong Kong government’s recent move to make it a criminal offence for operators of employment agencies to overcharge job seekers or operate without a licence.

Under the amendment to the Employment Ordinance that was gazetted on Feb. 9, agency operators found guilty of either offence could be jailed for up to three years, and fined a maximum of $350,000.

Previously, the penalty did not include imprisonment, and the maximum penalty was only $50,000.

Domestic helpers during Sunday in Central.
A statement released by the Hong Kong government said: “The Ordinance will afford better protection to job-seekers, including foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) who may easily fall prey to dishonest EAs that overcharge them on commission as they may not be fully aware of their statutory rights. The Ordinance will also help enhance the service standards of EAs.”

Labatt dela Torre sees this as a move in the right direction.

“I welcome it (tightening of regulations). It seems that the Hong Kong Government is serious about placing a deterrence to misbehaviour by rogue agencies. We look forward to an uncompromising enforcement regime to ensure that the new law benefits our migrant workers,” he said.

An association of employment agency operators also reacted positively to the stricter sanctions.

Thomas Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies, said: “We welcome the move. From what we understand, most of those who violate the law are those agencies without accreditation from the Philippine or Indonesian government”.

But even if the violator is an accredited agency, Chan said: “They will have to bear the brunt of law enforcement”.

He also said it was time the government cracked down on recruiters who operate without a licence. “What I know is that quite a number of staff of agencies do this after leaving the agency, for Indonesian workers in particular.”

The more stringent rules came just over a year after the legislature passed a Code of Practice for EAs, with the warning that should this prove to be ineffective, tougher measures would be put in place.

Another significant amendment to the Ordinance was the extension of the time limit for filing a case of overcharging or unlicensed operation against an EA from six months to 12 months.

In the past, the shorter time bar often resulted in job applicants not being able to file a claim, as the recruiter would deliberately delay the processing of job applications, or make the fee payable by installment to beyond the prescribed period.

 In addition, the Ordinance has extended the liability for overcharging to agency managers and staff. Before this, only the registered operators of the agency could be held liable for the offence.

Another new provision allows the Commissioner for Labour additional grounds to consider refusing to issue or renew or revoking a licence; and provides him/her a legal basis to issue codes of practice for EAs.

In line with the amendments to the Ordinance, the Commissioner promulgated a revised Code of Practice for EAs which superseded the earlier one that took effect on Jan. 13, 2017. 

The amendments set out the service standards that EAs should observe in handling job-seekers’ passports or personal identification documents, and require EAs to remind employers to give information about the proposed accommodation to the worker before the contract is signed.

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