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HK agencies ‘back off’ on illegal loans, but OFWs wary

02 August 2018

Three workers forced to pay the illegal loan complain to Labor Attache Romulo

By Vir B. Lumicao

A group of newly arrived domestic workers are celebrating after learning that they no longer have to pay an illegal $2,938 loan made out for each of them by three employment agencies in Hong Kong and their Manila counterparts.

The workers said a staff at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office called up one of them yesterday, Aug 1, to say “Sir Tony”, referring to Tony Chan, managing director of Pacific Jet Consultants, had waived a loan from finance company Mutual Honour (Hong Kong) Ltd that they were told to pay.

The backdown came after The SUN published a front-page story about the illicit loan.

However, Labor Attaché Nida Romulo said today, Aug. 2, that she was not aware of the purported loan waiver. She said she did not want to speculate on the report and preferred to hear about it from the workers themselves.

Pacific Jet, Sacred Heart International Consultants and Waytech Consultants, which occupy adjacent rooms in Cameron Commercial Building in Tsimshatsui, were named by at least 19 workers as the Hong Kong counterparts of the Philippine agencies that deployed them to Hong Kong between Apr 1 and May 31.

Three of the workers approached Romulo on Sunday, Jul 29, to complain about the Php16,000 loans each that they were allegedly made to take out from Caezar Pacific Money Lending Co Ltd in Makati so they could fly to Hong Kong.

On their arrival here, Chan allegedly told them to repay the loan in two installments of $1,469 each at 7-11 convenience stores (or a total of Php19,671 at current exchange rate for a 22% markup) and issued them payment cards that they were to use for that purpose.

The loan was supposed to pay for their further training on arrival in Hong Kong, but the workers said no such training took place.

Apart from the loan, the workers said they were also made to pay placement and training fees by their agencies in Manila amounting to at least Php85,000 (HK$12,686) each. Two workers from Cebu said they were charged a training fee of Php25,000  (HK$3,731) twice, once in that city, and another when they went to Manila prior to taking their flight to Hong Kong.

Philippine laws provide that the cost of recruiting overseas Filipino workers should all be borne by the employer, while in Hong Kong, the agency commission should be 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.

Romulo asked the workers to submit proofs of payments and execute affidavits so she could act on their complaints. Her staff also called up Chan about the complaint and the agency owner suggested a meeting with them and Romulo on Tuesday. But the workers instead pushed for a meeting this Sunday, Aug. 5, as that’s when most of them are off work.

But late on Wednesday the worker reportedly contacted by POLO staff Medith Chaneco relayed to the other complainants the information about Chan’s offer to cancel the loans.

“Tumatawag po ang POLO. Si Ma’am Medith, sabi niya hindi na daw kami dapat magbayad sa loan. Nagpasa na ng waiver si Sir Tony (Chan) para hindi na daw kami magbayad pa. Salamat po. Dahil sa inyo kaya namin nalagpasan ang problema. Salamat po talaga,” one of the workers said in a private message to The SUN.

But another posted cautioned: “We need to have the waiver so we have proof that the loan’s been waived,” said another.

The group expressed concern for a batch of about 18 other workers who are still in Manila waiting for their flight to Hong Kong.

They said the workers are now being told to pay cash up front for the extra charge, or they would’t be able to fly out to Hong Kong.

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