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Claimants Succeed in Getting Refunds
from Recruitment Agencies

A close network of the Mission For Migrant Workers in the Philippines, Migrante Ilo-ilo has reported five cases of former Domestic Workers in Hong Kong who had successfully claimed back placement fees which were unduly collected from them by their recruitment agencies. The five OFW’s whose contracts were terminated by their employers late last year were initially assisted in systematizing their claim statements and in orienting them with the policies of the HK and Philippine governments with regard to placement fees.

The objective was to prepare them to face their agency representatives initially for conciliation meetings set and mediated by officers at the POLO office of the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong. The mediation process however failed for the five OFW’s that is why they had to be endorsed next to the partner organizations of the Mission in the Philippines for them to continue pursuing their claims.

Upon settling back home, the five former OFW’s from Ilo-ilo had gotten in touch with the local chapter of Migrante where they were personally assisted by the Organization’s Service Coordinator in Panay. Assistance extended to them by the organization ranged from helping them elaborate on their statements, preparing more detailed accounts of the transactions with their agencies and in the preparation of relevant documents.

The clients have likewise been accompanied to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) office to file their cases against their respective agencies and were assisted during actual negotiations to negotiate on their claims.

The claimants have undertaken different levels of settlements with the agencies which recruited them. An Agency settled with one of the clients in the presence of just a representative of MIGRANTE Iloilo. One other case has been resolved at the level of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), which is authorized by the Philippine government to adjudicate labor disputes even those involving overseas workers. The rest of the cases had been addressed with just the Ilo-Ilo POEA director mediating. The amounts paid as placement fees by the former domestic workers to the agencies ranged from PhP70,000.00 to Ph95,000.00 (HK$14,000- HK$19,000) while the amounts settled went from Php55,000 to PhP114,000.00 (HK$11,000-HK$22,800).

Some of the settled amounts were bigger than what was actually collected since some of the domestic workers were forced to enter into lending arrangements which agencies themselves recommended and have charged them additionally with unwarranted interest rates and surcharges. The settlements were made from November 2011 to February 2012.

Illegal Collection of Fees by Recruitment agencies engaged in the job placement of OFW’s in Hong Kong has been an ongoing problem among Filipino domestic workers despite the “No placement fee” policy set by the POEA” since 2006. In Hong Kong, the labor department has pegged the maximum commission Placement Agencies can collect from domestic workers at 10% of their first month’s salary. Despite these policies however, numerous agencies still are engaged in the illegal exaction of fees from OFW’s.

Many Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong often learn about this policy only after they come to the Mission to seek out advice usually for some other problem. But in the course of the counseling, they learn about the “no placement fee policy” in the Philippines and the 10% maximum commission in Hong Kong (depending on where actual recruitment happened) that should have been enforced for the recruitment agencies to follow.

One of the clients of the Mission who asked for assistance in claiming back her money stated : “All agencies charge very high fees and since we were desperate to find jobs because there is no hope to have one in the Philippines, then we are forced to look for ways to pay them, even if this is against our will.” Applicants usually pay the agencies with fees amounting from HK$18,000.00 to HK28,000.00. This is equivalent to five to seven 7 months’ salaries of Foreign Domestic Workers.

Another client who found out about the policy only recently after she had paid her loans for the payment of the placement fees raised this question: “Why is it that the government never informed us about this policy? How come that in the predeparture orientation seminars sponsored by the government, they are quick to advise where we must remit cash, but never mention a thing about the placement fees that were illegally collected from us?”

Another client named Marife who was able to undergo the conciliation process at the Philippine Consulate asked: “Why is the government not going after these erring recruitment agencies? Instead of filing charges when cases are already clearly established against them, Consulate officers just let us sign a waiver stating that there was just a misunderstanding between us and the agency and if the agency returns back our money, we will no longer file charges against them.”

The Recruitment Agencies have employed a number of schemes to tie job seekers into paying placement fees which are illegal. One of their tactics is to link the job applicant to a lending company where they take a loan to pay the placement fees. The deployed workers are then made to pay the loans to the lending companies which are made to appear as if these (lending agencies) do not have any connections with the Recruitment Agencies.

After gaining insights about the policies on placement fees, many clients decide to file a case against their recruitment agencies. The process however requires them to first undergo a conciliation meeting at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) at the Philippine Consulate. When mediation fails and the parties cannot agree on the terms, the next step is to acquire an indorsement from the POLO so that they can file the case at the POEA in the Philippines.

The Mission assists the clients in coming up with their statements and in orienting them about the process they need to undergo to file their claims. When they file their cases back in the country, they are endorsed to Mission affiliates in the Philippines to assist them in filing and proceeding with their cases.

A great majority of Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong are not aware about the “no placement fee” policy implemented in 2006 by the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA). This is the reason why, many OFW’s easily fall prey to the ploy of recruitment agencies. In 2011 alone, 226 cases have been filed against recruitment agencies at the Philippine Consulate with the assistance of the Mission, while on the 1st semester of 2012 alone, more than 200 additional cases have likewise sought the Mission’s help.

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