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Filipina seeks High Court nod for tech court to hear Tribunal case

29 June 2018

By Vir B. Lumicao

A Filipina who has left an unfinished claim against her former employer in the Labour Tribunal, is appealing in the High Court the tribunal’s rejection of her application to use a “technology court” to pursue her case from the Philippines.

A favorable decision by the High Court could pave the way for other foreign domestic workers who have gone home  to pursue their cases against their empoyers in Hong Kong by “appearing in court” electronically via video-conferencing.

The landmark appeal was heard on Jun 22 with the Help for Domestic Workers appearing on behalf of former worker Joenalyn Mallorca, who had gone home after her initial victory in the tribunal against her employer Ng Me Shuen.

Justice Carlye Chu who presided over the hearing, told the applicant’s lawyer that she will release her judgment after studying the implications of holding of such a special hearing.

The judge said the applicant must satisfy the court about the inability of the worker to return to Hong Kong to pursue her case.

The lawyer said Mallorca had to go home because her mother, who was looking after her three children, was afflicted with blood cancer and was in hospital. Another reason was her lack of financial ability to return to Hong Kong because she had no income.

Judge Chu said the Tribunal is looking to the High Court for guidance on setting up a technology court for Mallorca’s case because of related issues, such as how to ensure no lawyers are advising or preparing documents for the litigant overseas, and where to set up a technology court.

But the Labour Tribunal, which is housed in an old building in Yau Ma Tei, has no such special court.

The lawyer told Judge Chu that setting up a technology court would be less expensive than bringing back a domestic worker to give evidence in Hong Kong.

Ng terminated Mallorca’s work contract on Sept 15, 2016, just three months after the Filipina started working for her. The worker took her case to the Labour Tribunal after a meeting with Ng at the Labor Department failed.

The lawyer said Mallorca went home in December 2016. That was shortly after Ng paid the worker arrears in wages totaling $1,824.37 and $1,300 for her one-way airline ticket in a settlement in the Tribunal.

But four unsettled items totaling $8,707.33 remain in Mallorca’s claim, including wages in lieu of notice. These would have been taken up in a second hearing scheduled for Feb 2, 2017, but she could not return and authorized Help to represent her.

Help case manager Raquel Amador told The SUN the appeal is very important because, if granted, many foreign domestic workers who have returned home can still pursue their cases against their employers.

The Judiciary set up in 2015 a technology court in the High Court in Admiralty. It is equipped with user-friendly features and facilities, including video conferencing, multimedia presentation of evidence, a documentation and exhibits handling system, and interpretation services all integrated into a centrally controlled network.

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