Employers and employee working together against unscrupulous agents. Bit “modern-day slavery” now

With the joint effort of HKCTU and FADWU, the Gold Union Employment Agency (GUEA) and Ursula Advanced Employment Center (UAEC) were convicted and fined for over-charging placement fee in June and September this year respectively, and the cases have received wide attention.  We would all agree that foreign domestic workers shouldn’t be exploited by unlawful agencies, but there have been a few prosecutions against these agencies.  It was the union members who kept on investigating and brought the casesto the Labour Department, which eventually ended in closure of two unlawful employment agencies.  Let us look at how they operated and work with your domestic workers against the unlawful employment agencies.

Practices of unlawful employment agencies

Sundari was taken to a finance agency Ample Cooperation Limited after she accepted a job referred by GUEA.  She was forced to sign loan documents and then asked to authorize the finance agency to transfer the “loan” to the account of GUEA though she did not receive any money in the process.  Sundari was “loaned” HK$13,300, which added up to HK$15,000 with loan interest.  Sundari paid her “debt” with her salary from first month. She did not pay any more but file a complaint with the Labour Department with support from the union.
In another incident, 3 Indonesian domestic workers were taken to finance agency Indonesian Overseas Credit Limited after they were referred jobs by the UAEC, and asked to sign loan documents without any explanation.  They also did not receive any money but were told to pay back HK$3,380 every month for 6 months, altogether HK$20,280, which was equivalent to 5-month salary.
The UAEC took them to open bank accounts after the first month.  Their ATM card and password were kept by the UAEC and employers were asked to transfer their salary through bank accounts.  The UAEC withdrew the “loan payment” directly from the bank accounts without informing the domestic workers, and only returned HK$800 to each of them.  In other words, if the domestic workers did not file a complaint, they would only receive HK$800 each month for their first six months in Hong Kong.

Employers may unknowingly break the law as misled by employment agencies

The employment agencies forced the domestic workers into “loans” to circumvent the laws, and misled the public and employers to believe that the fee-charging was legal and the loans were “normal”.  In the above cases, the employment agencies colluded with the finance agencies and forced the domestic workers to apply for loans, and charge fees on monthly bases to avoid legal liabilities. The domestic workers’ loans in their early days in Hong Kong were often forced by employment agencies like GUEA and UAEC for unlawful fee-charging.  Most of the loans of the domestic workers were not related to personal financial situations.
To come by these illegal placement fees, the employment agencies misled Hong Kong employers.  For example, employment agencies asked employers to transfer placement fee to the finance agencies directly on monthly basis, and pay the domestic workers the balance of monthly salary.  This arrangement may be an offence of missing salary with penalty higher than the over-charging of employment agency fee, and the employers have to bear the responsibilities.  In the case of GUEA, the employer thought that the whole amount of salary was transferred to the bank accounts of the domestic workers, while in fact the employment agency took it all.  If the domestic workers refused to pay the amount, the employment agency or finance agency would use different tricks against the domestic workers, such as causing nuisance to the domestic workers, making false complaints to the employer, or even asking the employers to dismiss the domestic workers to put pressure on them.

Legal protection is weak but employer-employee collaboration could be strong against mal-practice

There are over 300,000 domestic workers in Hong Kong and most of them were exploited by the employment agencies.  Their first six months of the 2-year contracts were often not paid, and it is slavery in modern-day.  It is simple to work with your domestic helper against the unlawful employment agencies.  Support them to fight for their justice by letting them take half-day off to file their complaints with the union or Labour Department.  A just and equal Hong Kong starts with you.


Tips for the employers

If you pay through bank accounts, make sure the domestic worker has access to her/his own account.

Inquire about the details of placement fees.

Use agencies which state clearly that they would put additional charges on the domestic workers.

Support your domestic worker to report to union when there is a suspected case of mal-practice.  Hotline: 27708668


http://news.tvb.com/local/57d535a26db28c4f784b517c/ (in Chinese)