Migrant workers often arrive overseas already in debt. While JWB seeks to help workers fight the additional fees workers pay in places in Hong Kong and Singapore, many workers abroad truly need to escape the illegal debts they are saddled with back home.
In 2019, JWB began pursuing illegal agency fees in clients’ home countries, while they were still working abroad. Terming these “reverse cross-border” claims, we flipped the script on our usual work and helped those abroad seek justice back home. Together, 16 Indonesian migrant workers successfully filed claims against the same Indonesian employment agency while they were still working in Hong Kong. (Read more here) The success of these ‘reverse cross-border’ cases launched a new area of litigation for JWB and its partners. We consolidated our lessons learned in this work in 2020, with additional cases on the horizon.
The chart below shows how JWB helps workers abroad pursue claims back home.
Reverse cross-border claims against illegal agency fees are challenging. Often, migrant workers do not have copies of documents that serve as crucial evidence against employment agencies. Instead, these documents lie in the hands of employment agencies, who present them as evidence of migrant workers agreeing to their terms of employment without coercion or threat. However, the truth is that migrant workers often sign multiple documents with employment agencies and/or financial companies without having had the time to fully understand or read through them. Furthermore, employment agencies often deny accusations of overcharging migrant workers, deflecting responsibility to their counterparts in the migrant worker’s host or home country, or to other financial companies that are involved.
That is why regional knowledge of the law, and collaboration with local frontline organisations and government agencies, are of utmost importance in resolving reverse cross-border cases. Knowledge of labour protection laws help determine the most suitable course of action for migrant workers. Frontline organisations in the migrant worker’s home country aid the litigation process through evidence collection, representing clients in negotiations or mediations, and liaising with government agencies. Likewise, JWB and our partners in the migrant worker’s host country contribute by ensuring migrant workers can attend negotiations, meditations or trials through video conferencing. Together, JWB and our partners design appropriate risk mitigation strategies to overcome cross-border litigation challenges, and effectively seek compensation for migrant workers.
Reverse cross-border cases mark our progress in developing transnational litigation expertise so that justice for migrant workers can be served beyond borders.