FDH recovers P70,000 in illegal fees from agency

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Members of the Mission for Migrant Workers celebrate International Migrants Day in Central on December 16.

BE not afraid.

A Filipino domestic worker from Prince Edward recovered P70,000 in illegally collected fees less than three months after she filed a complaint against her employment agency.

Joan Imperial, who is from Naga City, said she was able to recover P70,000 of the P83,000 that she paid to her agency after she was assisted by the Mission for Migrants Workers.

She filed her complaint at the consulate on September 23 and got her money back on December 13. She pursued her case although she had no receipts for some of the payments she made.

“I hope that other victims of overcharging would also not be afraid,” Imperial said in an interview.

She said Filipino domestic workers who are victims of overcharging can still file a complaint at the consulate within three years after they were made to pay illegal fees.

Under Hong Kong labor regulations, agencies can only collect up to 10 percent of a foreign domestic worker’s first month’s salary. The current minimum wage for foreign domestic worker is $4,520 so agencies are allowed to collect only $452 or around P3,000.

Imperial said her agency in Hong Kong offered her a job as a domestic worker in August 2017. At first, she paid a down payment of P10,000 on August 9, 2017.

She then paid another P10,000 when she met the owner of the agency in a hotel in Manila. After Imperial had her Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar, she paid P40,000 on October 30, 2017.

She added that she also paid P23,000 for her training and medical exams. Imperial said she did not know that she could file a complaint until Mission members approached her and her friends in their hangout in Tamar Park in Admiralty.

“Someone approached us and said that, if we had fallen victim to illegal collection by agencies, we could still recover the money. We decided that, if there was a chance, we would pursue it,” she said.

“It became clear to me that we could go after them but it should be within three years (after the collection of illegal fees),” she added.

Imperial said her agency in Hong Kong offered to return P50,000 at the consulate in September. She initially accepted it but later changed her mind.

“(The agency owner) said, ‘That’s already money. You can use it.’ But I realized that they should be held accountable. We were already outside and were about to prepare the compromise agreement when I changed my mind,” she said.

On October 21, the agency owner offered to return P60,000 but Imperial refused because her sibling was in the hospital and later died, with P122,000 in medical bills.

“I stood my ground because the Mission said that there should be no placement fee. I said ‘Ma’am, it’s the employer who should pay,’” Imperial said.

She said the case was submitted to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in Manila.

On Dec. 5, the representative of the agency in Manila insisted on paying only P60,000 but Imperial stood her ground, even after the amount was raised to P65,000.

On Dec. 13, Imperial informed the POEA official handling the case that she would accept the P65,000 as “partial compensation” but she would elevate the case to the National Labor Relations Commission so that she could recovered the remaining balance.

She added that she would also ask for damages and compensation for legal costs. Upon hearing this, the agency representative agreed to pay P70,000.

“The representative became worried and called their boss. So, the P60,000 was transferred to my sibling’s bank account while the remaining P10,000 was given in cash,” Imperial said.

She said a friend who paid P75,000 to find a job here in HK was also able to recover P40,000.

Imperial said another friend paid more than P100,000 but she was not able to recover the amount because she had been here for six years, or beyond the cutoff period of three years.

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