‘Law vs erring EAs unlikely this year’
THE bill that will provide a legal basis for stiff fines and jail terms against erring employment agencies may not be approved this year, a Hong Kong lawmaker said.
Dr. Fernando Cheung of Labour Party told Hong Kong News there had been no recent deliberations on the Code of Practice for Employment Agencies at the Legislative Council.
“The government is moving very slowly and we’re hoping that…we could have them get the law ready, but at this point, they’re not even talking about the CoP. We need to put more pressure to the government before it can be realized,” he said.
Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, chairperson of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Unifil-Migrante-HK), said that with the recent issue about the illegal recruitment and trafficking of Filipinos, the LD should be more determined in ensuring that erring employment agencies would be penalized.
“We should push the LD to legislate the CoP,” Balladares-Pelaez said.
Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre also said that if indeed the bill was unlikely to be legislated this year, they would raise the matter in the next technical working group meeting with Hong Kong officials in January.
Amid the issue about Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong being deceived into seeking employment in Russia, Turkey, Cyprus and eastern European countries such as Czech Republic, and Poland, Dela Torre said stakeholders should be more aggressive in pushing for the legislation of the CoP.
“We’re looking forward to the other actions of the Hong Kong government, particularly iyong sa LegCo at ituloy natin na magkaroon ng amendment sa Employment Ordinance so that the powers and responsibilities of employment agencies can be strictly defined at napapahamak ang mga kababayan natin dito na narerecruit to third countries,” he said during the open forum of the “International Forum on Migration” in Hong Kong held at the Admiralty Conference Centre on Nov. 19.
He added that he was also recommending a constant representation with Russian, and Turkish authorities about the recruitment so Filipinos could be protected from unscrupulous recruiters.
Cynthia Tellez, general manager of the NGO Mission for Migrant Workers, agreed with Dela Torre that there should be steady and aggressive effort to push for the legislation of the CoP.
“Kailangan kasi pinagpapatuloy mo ang ingay dahil noong nilabas ang Code of Practice, hindi naman siya mali, pero kulang na kulang siya kaya nga ang legislation ang hinihingi.
“Dapat dagdagan ang pressure lalo na ngayon na nakita nila ang validity at ang pangangailangan dito habang nagkakaroon ng deployment sa Russia, Turkey, at iba pa,” Tellez said in an interview.
However, Shiella Grace Estrada, secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Union and chairperson of the Progressive Labor Union, said they were assured by LegCo members that the bill would likely be passed in the first three months of 2018.
She said their group and several lawmakers have been seeking to extend the period with which a domestic worker could pursue a case against an erring employment agency to 24 months. The proposed bill only prescribes a six-month period to pursue a case.
“Noong last meeting noong [Nov. 21] ang sabi ng LD hanggang 12 months lang daw kasi hanggang ganoon lang ang records ng employment agencies,” she said.
On the other hand, the Labour Department in a reply to an email inquiry of Hong Kong News said they will continue to work for the protection of job-seekers in the city.
“The [CoP] bill is under the vetting of the Legislative Council Bills Committee… We hope to complete the legislative process as soon as possible to strengthen regulation of EAs and protection for job-seekers,” the LD said.
It added that besides increasing the penalties for erring EAs, the bill also seeks to extend he scope of the overcharging offense to include the licensee and the management as well as persons employed by EAs.
Likewise, the bill introduces “new grounds for the Commissioner for Labour to refuse to issue/renew or revoke EA licences.”
In June, the LD formally filed the bill with the LegCo.
The bill seeks to amend Part XII of the Employment Ordinance (EO) (Cap 57) to raise the maximum penalty for the offenses of overcharging job-seekers and unlicensed operation of EAs.
Hong Kong labor rules allow agencies to collect fees equivalent to 10 percent of the worker’s first monthly wage. The current minimum wage for foreign domestic helpers is $4,310. Violation of the rule could incur a maximum fine of $50,000.
Under the new bill, however, those charging job-seekers excessive fees could face a maximum fine of $350,000 and imprisonment of three years.
The bill also seeks to expand the scope of application of overcharging offense, and provide for new grounds for the Commissioner of Labour to consider refusing to issue or renew or revoking a license to operate an EA. Likewise, the bill will provide a legal basis for the Code of Practice for EAs.
In January, the LD promulgated the CoP, which highlights the salient legislative requirements and sets out minimum standards for employment agencies. These standards include maintaining transparency in business operations, drawing up service agreements with job-seekers and with employers, providing payment receipts, promoting job-seekers’ and employers’ awareness of their rights and obligations (including provision of sample wage receipt to facilitate FDHs and their employers for record-keeping or perusal as when necessary) and avoiding involvement in financial affairs of job-seekers.
Hong Kong lawmakers vowed support for the legislation of stiffer fines on employment agencies that overcharge job-seekers.