WINNERS: HK courts favor OFWs
Three Filipino domestic helpers recently won their respective cases against their former employers.
First to win her case was Jenalyn V. who was charged with theft in court after her employer accused her of stealing a watch that was allegedly found in the pocket of one of her bags when she was about to leave her employer’s home.
Magistrate Peony Wong Nga-yan of the West Kowloon Courts on Dec. 4 acquitted Jenalyn of theft, noting the defendant’s clear record as well as the failure of the prosecution to submit to court a CCTV footage that would have purportedly showed that the Filipina took her male employer’s watch and put it in her bag.
Jenalyn came from the Philippines to work for her employers in Shek Pik starting on Aug. 1, 2017, but she had already indicated her intention to resign on Sept. 8 because she was not given enough food by her employers.
She added that on that day she was locked out of the house for four hours after she was accused by her female employer of taking an iPad.
Jenalyn got in touch with her recruiter and informed him about being locked out and that she was not given enough food.
She said that she would usually go without breakfast and was also not given food for lunch.
Reached by Jenalyn, the recruiter then assured her that he would be getting in touch with her employers.
The Filipina was eventually allowed inside the house. When she inquired from her male employer about the alleged missing iPad, he said the gadget was found in one of their cars.
Following the incident, Jenalyn told the court that her working conditions improved. She had bread for breakfast and was given food for lunch and dinner.
After two days, her employers had withheld food from her again.
Finally, on the evening of Sept. 28, Jenalyn started packing her things because she was intent on terminating the contract and leaving the house of her employers.
The following day, around lunch time, when her male boss came back from work, she told him of her intention to resign from the job. Her female employer and their son were also in the house.
Jenalyn told the court that her bags, which included a luggage, a rucksack, and cross bodybag, were prepared and were in the kitchen.
She was then told by her employer to wait and asked her to call the police in the meantime.
She was also helped by her male employer to move her bags from the kitchen to the dining area.
When the police arrived she was told that a wristwatch belonging to her male boss was missing. Upon search of her black rucksack, the watch was found.
She was then taken to the police station.
But Judge Wong rejected the evidence in chief of the defendant’s male employer, who said their relationship with the helper was good as his wife also told the court that the relationship was strained.
Judge Wong also said it was possible that during the transfer of the bag from the kitchen to the dining room, there was an opportunity to slip the watch inside the defendant’s rucksack, which had no lock, unlike her luggage.
“The employers did not submit to the court the footage before the police arrived, and the footage submitted only showed the (female employer) sitting and chatting,” Judge Wong.
Owing to this, the magistrate said the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty.
Told of the court’s verdict, Jenalyn started crying. After the court proceedings, Jenalyn approached her duty lawyer and thanked him.
Second to win her case was Analiza E.
On Dec. 11, Analiza’s male employer, whom she sued before the Labour Tribunal agreed to give her $50,000, or more than half of $93,500 that she was originally seeking from him.
The amount included the remaining portion of her two-year contract, the expenses she incurred for extending her visa, and the amount in lieu of one-month notice.
In an interview after the court proceedings and after Analiza, and the employer, surnamed Yuen, told a Labour Tribunal judge that they were agreeing to settle the dispute instead of going into trial, she said she was excited to go back home to her family in the Philippines.
However, she added that because she stayed in Hong Kong for more than a year without a job while the case was pending in court, she had incurred numerous debts, which she estimated to be around $20,000.
It was her first employment in Hong Kong, and she started working for her employer in Kowloon City in August 2016, and then she was terminated in November of the same year.
On July 18, Analiza was acquitted of theft by a Kowloon Court.
Deputy Magistrate Vennie Chiu Wai-yee ruled that the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant stole the money from her employer.
The judge noted that despite the employer’s statement that the domestic worker took the $500 in September 2016, she continued to employ her and only terminated the contract two months after.
Employer, recruiter guilty in China work
A Kowloon City court convicted a Hong Kong resident and an employment agency official in a landmark case filed by government prosecutors involving the practise of some employers of bringing their Filipino domestic helpers to China.
Kowloon City Court Deputy Magistrate Andrew Ma on Dec. 14 found SW Wong, and CK Chan of conspiracy to defraud an officer of the Immigration Department for making it appear that Wong would be the employer of Filipino domestic helper R. Ubaldo, when in fact it was her cousin from mainland China who would be employing the helper.
Hong Kong only allows residents to hire foreign domestic helpers, and by submitting papers to the ImmD that Wong would be Ubaldo’s employer, her cousin Z. Huang was able to hire a helper who took care of her two children, who were born in Hong Kong and were also studying in the city.
Huang was also a defendant in the case but Judge Ma acquitted her of the charge, noting that the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that she knew about the arrangement of Wong and Chan signing the documents submitted to the ImmD.
In convicting Wong and Chan, Judge Ma noted that their background as an insurance agent, and an employment agent, respectively, would have known that only Hong Kong residents were allowed to hire a foreign domestic helper.
He also noted that when Ubaldo’s contract was about to be signed, the helper asked why Wong was signing it, instead of Huang, when it was the latter who interviewed her, Chan said Wong would imitate Huang’s signature.
“D1 (Wong) and D2 (Chan) knew full well that had the application contained the correct information, the application would not be granted,” said Judge Ma.
He added that it was not “without reluctance” that he was acquitting Huang of the charge as she was highly suspicious and she benefited from the arrangement.
Judge Ma called for background reports before sentencing of Wong and Chan at a later date.
In the meantime, Judge Ma allowed them to post bail of $50,000. Wong and Chan were also ordered to surrender all their travel documents and report daily to the police.
During the trial Wong and Chan had blamed each other for the offense.
Wong on Sept. 14 told the court that the papers submitted to the ImmD for her application to hire Ubaldo was given to her by Chan was blank and that she only signed it.
“I did not know that he filled in the form that way,” Wong said in the witness box.
She also denied that she deliberately concealed the information that the two children that Ubaldo would be taking care of were not her children but her niece and nephew.
Wong, who came to Hong Kong from the mainland some 20 years ago and is now working as an insurance agent, also said the Hung Hom address, which was stated in Ubaldo’s employment contract, was her maternal address.
In her evidence given on July 18-20, the court heard that Ubaldo signed a contract on Apr. 15, 2015 to work as the domestic helper of Wong. The contract stated that the helper would, among others, take care of the employer’s daughter and son, and they would reside in an address in Hung Hom.
Ubaldo said it was Huang who interviewed her, and she was informed by Chan that the employer liked her.
After signing the contract, and staying in Macau while waiting for the ImmD to approve her new visa, Ubaldo said that on June 11, 2015, she started working in the address stated in her contract.
She said Wong did not reside at the address and it was Huang who would give her instructions and pay her salary. The witness added that Huang would pay her in cash and did not issue any receipts.
The two children that she took care of, she added, were also children of Huang instead of Wong’s.
In her contract, Ubaldo said, it was stated that the children were Wong’s.
In August 2015, Ubaldo said she was informed by Huang that they were going to China, and they would have a holiday there.
On Aug. 17, 2015, she, Wong and Huang’s daughter went to apply for a visa so Ubaldo could enter the mainland.
Looking at her contract, Ubaldo said she asked if the name that was there was Wong’s, and the latter confirmed it was.
After learning of this, Ubaldo said she inquired from Chan if this was legal, the agent said “no problem because they’re sisters.”
Ten days after, Ubaldo, along with Huang, and her children left Hong Kong for Guangzhou.
In Guangzhou, the Filipina said she was made to work at the house. She cleaned the house, went to the market, and cooked dishes. She also took Huang’s children to some exercise classes. In China, Ubaldo said, Huang took her passport. When she complained, Chan assured her that her passport would be returned to her.
As her visa was set to expire, she then returned to Hong Kong on Sept. 25, 2015.
After returning to Hong Kong, Ubaldo was told by Wong and Chan that she would have to go back to China. When she refused, she was terminated.
Owing to this, Ubaldo said she went to the Philippine Consulate for consultation.
On Sept. 30, the Filipina went to the ImmD to file a complaint against Wong, Chan, and Huang.
Wong said the forms that she filled out were in English, and with only secondary education from the mainland, her English was poor.
She added that some of the information in the application forms submitted to the ImmD were incorrect and that it was Chan who filled them out.
On the other hand, Chan denied misleading the ImmD about Ubaldo’s work.
He said all the information came from Wong herself. He also said that had he known that the two children were Huang’s and not Wong’s, he could have put that in the application form and the ImmD would still have approved it.