About Recruitment Agency Fees
Foreign migrant workers, especially domestic workers, usually pass through private recruitment agencies in their respective countries which have counterpart agencies in Hong Kong. The normal process is that, when an employer seeks to hire a foreign domestic worker, the private recruitment agency in Hong Kong will be the one to facilitate the hiring; including processing of necessary documents and papers. The employer will inform the said agency of the preferred nationality they want to hire. The agency in Hong Kong will contact its counterpart agency in the country of the foreign domestic worker the employer prefers to hire.
After completing all the necessary papers and documents from both the employer and the domestic worker and after the employer pays the agency of the agreed fee, then the domestic worker will wait for the release of the employment visa and then s/he is ready to proceed to Hong Kong to work for the specified employer stated in the employment contract. As per the employment contract, all expenses should be shouldered by the employer, NOT by the domestic worker.
But is this usually the case? Our collective experience says a resounding NO! Recruitment agencies, more often than not, find ways and means to exact the most from migrant domestic workers coming to Hong Kong. They charge the employer the allowable fee but they also extract fees from the migrant workers even if it is illegal.
The country of origin of migrant workers has different policies or laws that regulate recruitment agencies. For example, the Indonesian government, through a law (Kepmen 98/2012), allows recruitment agencies in Indonesia to charge huge fees from migrant workers even if the employer already pays for all the incurred expenses in processing the papers. This is the reason why in the first seven months, they are forced to pay the agency on an installment basis.
While in the Philippines, though agencies are prohibited by law to charge agency fees from migrant workers, they exploit policies of the Philippine government to exact money from their applicants by capitalizing on policies such as assessment and training schemes, pre-departure orientation seminars, etc. Or else, they will trick the foreign domestic worker, especially at the last minute when they are about to leave, into signing loan forms making it appear that they borrowed money from a certain money lending agency. More often, the foreign domestic worker is made to open a checking account and sign blank cheques as “guarantee for repayment of loan”. The agency in Hong Kong upon their arrival will brief them on how to remit their payment to the lending agency in the Philippines.
So what must be done by migrant workers in order to file claims against agencies which illegally exact money from them?
The first step is to decide on whether one is willing to correct a wrong practice. It is wrong and unjust for an agency to exploit your vulnerable situation. All victims of overcharging, or illegal charging as the case may be on the Philippines, have the right to reclaim their money. In this regard, it would be best to seek assistance or advice from institutions providing paralegal advice for cases such as these.
Upon making a positive decision, gathering evidence and ensuring proper documentation becomes very important because agencies don’t give receipts. Keep all papers, and anything that the agency hands to you. They might be of use as evidence later on.
Second, an applicant should make a diary of their transactions with the agency. Note down names of agency staff you talk with. Jot down the time, date, place or address of the agency, the whole amount that was demanded of you, the manner of payment and terms of installments and the name of the agency staff who told you so. Do not forget to list down what you remember when you were asked to sign an application form for loan – name of the lending agency, who asked you to sign, what is written in the form, who were with you when you signed it.
For those who fail to make a diary, recall your experiences and write all the events since the start of your application. It is especially important, if possible, to report conversations pertaining to payment word for word.
Third, as much as possible, ask a neighbor or somebody you trust to accompany you when applying at the agency. She or he can serve as a witness about the transaction. The witness’ statement or affidavit can corroborate your account of the transaction with the agency.
The weight of the claims/case being filed against the agency will be determined by the pieces of evidence and statement/s of your witness/es. These are the documents that will corroborate or confirm your stories and serve as evidences to your claims. But this does not mean that if you do not have the documents or witnesses, you do not have any case at all. The point is to know what you have and what you do not have.
Fourth, if you have already paid certain installments, stop paying subsequent ones and file a claim at the Small Claims Tribunal for the amount you have already paid. Do not let yourself be intimidated by “collectors” of the loan agencies. Money-lenders contact you or your employer to create nuisances to pressure you to give them money. If the “collector” calls you frequently, ask your employer to seek police assistance to report such incident. Talk it over with your employer and agree on certain steps to take. Best is to (1) Record or document the harassment; (2) Report the matter to the Police the soonest time possible.
You may also decide to report to the Hong Kong Labour Department’s arm in charge of Placement Agencies and provide them with the narrative account of your experience and whatever documents/evidences/proofs you might have to establish your story. File a formal complaint. If because you may not have sufficient evidence, find individuals with similar experience and encourage them to do exactly as you did. This will prod the Labour Department to look into the matter. It is true that one person’s complaints may be ignored. Then let us encourage others to come forward so that the officers may not ignore us anymore.
If the lending agency agent threatens you about filing a case at the court, let them do that. It will give you an opportunity to expose the agency’s modus operandi or scheme in exacting money illegally from you.