By Vir B. Lumicao
A case of human trafficking is now being investigated by Consulate and Hong Kong officials after a Filipina domestic helper refused to return to a proxy employer in mainland China and instead sought help from the authorities.
The worker’s ordeal exposes a trend in Hong Kong’s employment agency industry to recruit foreign domestic helpers on local contracts and then pass them on to surrogate employers on the mainland.
Charice (not her real name), who went to the Consulate on Oct 11, named two Hong Kong employment agencies that processed her contract, as well as her supposed local employer and the real boss in China’s Zhejiang province.
She took her case to the authorities’ attention as the Consulate was preparing for a day-long conference on human trafficking on Oct 18 for OFWs and other stakeholders.
The Consulate invited lawyers from the Inter-agency Council against Trafficking and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to speak about the menace and how the government agencies are dealing with it.
Vice Consul Fatima Quintin, chief of the assistance to nationals section, told The SUN that this case is not unique. Since January this year, there have been four to five cases of Filipinas recruited by Hong Kong agencies purportedly for local employers but were eventually delivered to employers on the mainland.
Quintin said the Consulate would discuss the cross-border trafficking with their Hong Kong counterparts in the next technical working group meeting between the two sides.
The TWG comprises officials of the Consulate including the labor attache and her two deputies, and representatives from Hong Kong’s Labour Department, Immigration, police, and Employment Agencies Administration.
The ATN head admitted hearing of several cases where employers here would bring their maids along when they travel to the mainland, but are not challenged at the border by Hong Kong Immigration officers.
“Perhaps they don’t mind if the domestic worker goes to the mainland with her boss for a weekend visit. It would be a different thing if the helper stays there longer, then comes back to apply for a new visa,” Quintin said.
Another ATN source said Immigration is now tightening its watch on Filipina helpers crossing the border. He said employers are now being told that they cannot bring their maids to the mainland more than three times a year, apparently in an attempt to circumvent Chinese laws prohibiting the employment of foreign domestic workers.
In May this year, two Filipinas who came to Hong Kong in January to work for the same employer escaped and reported to the Immigration Department that they had been taken to another employer in Shanghai, with the collusion of the agency that recruited them in Manila and its principal in Hong Kong.
Whether the recruiter is in Manila or Hong Kong, the modus is the same, based on the victims’ accounts: they are made to sign a contract with a Hong Kong employer and when they start working, they are taken to the real boss on the mainland.
In the case of Charice, she was terminated in April by her previous employer in Hong Kong, so, she looked for a new employer through the Hong Kong employment agency “A”. In the meantime, she exited to Macau.
On April 22, her contract was processed by agency “A” through an Indonesian sub-agency, “B”, and on May 9 she got word that her work visa had been approved by Immigration, she said in a sworn statement.
The visa was delivered by “A” on June 5 to Macau, where Charice stayed for over a month in the agency’s boarding house as she waited for her visa. On June 11, an Indonesian staff of “A” fetched the Filipina in Macau and delivered her to a Hong Kong employer named Wong.
On Aug 17, Charice was accompanied by Wong to the Chinese Consular Office in Wanchai to apply for a visitor visa to the mainland. Ten days later, she was fetched by a friend of Wong in the mainland named Huang and taken to Zhejiang province.
“I was surprised when Huang told me that I would be working for her in Zhejiang,” Charice said.
The helper said she knew it was illegal and violated her contract, so, when she was told by Huang to return to Hong Kong on Sept 25 to renew her Chinese visa, she went to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office to report her case on Sept 27.
Two days later, Charice went to the Immigration Department and reported the matter.
On Oct 1, the Hong Kong employer terminated Charice’s contract, alleging that it was the two employment agencies that got her into the mess.
Quintin said the case had already been reported to the Hong Kong Labour Department, with an ATN staff accompanying the Filipina and helping her recount her story.