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New OFWs disclose illegal HK loan scheme

01 August 2018

By Vir B. Lumicao

A number of employment agencies in Hong Kong, helped by their counterparts in the Philippines, appear to be using a new ploy to get their new recruits to take out loans from financing companies, in violation of the laws in both jurisdictions.

This apparent collusion between the Philippine agencies and their Hong Kong partners was disclosed to The SUN over the past week by at least 19 Filipina domestic workers who arrived from Manila in recent months.

Complainants see Labor Attache Nida Romulo.
Some of the workers reported the intricate illegal loan scheme to the Philippine Consulate on Jul 29 after receiving demand letters sent by the lender, Mutual Honour (Hong Kong) Ltd.

Labor Attaché Nida Romulo, head of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, asked her staff to call the agencies, but did not get through to the persons in charge. Someone who answered the phone in one of the agencies said their managing director suggested a meeting with the workers on Aug 31.

But Romulo rejected the offered date, and set the meeting in POLO on Aug 5, a Sunday, when most of the complainants take their day off.

Romulo advised the workers to submit sworn statements, a chronology of events and documentary evidence before that date and attend the meeting with the agency manager.

“Yung employment contract ninyo, i-xerox nyo na at ilagay ninyo roon para kumpleto ang ebidensya laban sa inirereklamo ninyong agency,” she said.

She said POLO will have to see how many workers have been affected and the labor office will summon the agencies involved to meet with the complainants.

The workers named the Philippine agencies as iEmploy Manpower Services, Infinity Manpower Services and MIP International Manpower Services. Their partner agencies in Hong Kong are Pacific Jet Consultants, Sacred Heart Consultant Inc, and Waytech Consultants.

The new money-making ruse reportedly involves requiring Hong Kong-bound domestic workers to sign a loan agreement for PhP16,000 in Manila with a lending company based here, before leaving for their jobs.

But on arrival in Hong Kong, the workers learn they will have to pay the partner agency here through a lending company. They are told to pay back the loan through 7-11 outlets using a payment account already set up while the workers were still in Manila.

And instead of merely Php16,000 the “loan” that they must pay is converted to HK$2,936 payable in two monthly installments of $1,469 each (or a total of Php19,671 at current exchange rate), for a 22% markup. The payment to the partner agency in Hong Kong is supposedly for “further training” that the workers say has not materialized. 

Under Hong Kong’s labour laws, an agency may charge a commission of no more than 10% of the worker’s first monthly salary, which in this case should just be $441. Amendments made to the Labour Ordinance which took effect in February this year provide a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of $350,000 in overcharging cases. The helpers, some of whom have sought help from the POLO and the Mission for Migrant Workers, showed demand letters sent by a Tai Po-based lending company, Mutual Honour (Hong Kong) Ltd, advising them to remit their payments through 7-11 convenience stores. 

The loan amount is on top of other illicit fees reportedly collected from them in the Philippines.

“Umabot ng Php60,000 ang binayaran ko sa ahensiya sa Maynila. Iba pa yung P25,000 training fee na siningil sa akin para sa TESDA certificate,” said one of the workers.

Two complainants said an agency branch that processed their documents in Cebu charged them PhP25,000 each for training and other fees for medical, video, and other charges. To their surprise, they were again charged the same fees in the Manila office of the same agency. 

The workers said the Manila agencies refused to issue receipts for all the payments, while the training center did issue a crude receipt, using a small piece of paper on which the amount paid by a particular worker is written down. But the firm’s name is not indicated on the proof of payment. 

The workers have sought help from the Mission for Migrant Workers to prepare and document their complaints against the agencies before lodging these with the Philippine and Hong Kong labor departments.

As of this writing, a further batch of 18 workers are still processing their papers in Manila and are due to fly to Hong Kong soon.

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