JWB and its partners secured justice for a migrant worker being charged exorbitant fees and facing debt bondage in Hong Kong. The case marks another victory in our fight against illegal agency fees, an all too common occurrence against migrant domestic workers.
Arriving in Hong Kong in 2014 to work as a migrant domestic worker, Yuli was unfamiliar with the foreign city and relied heavily on her employment agency in Hong Kong for information. With no friends or family in Hong Kong, she could only trust her agency.
However, the agency tricked her into believing that all migrant domestic workers needed to pay HK$18,000 to work in Hong Kong. In fact, city law allows a maximum charge of only HK$410.
Even worse, her employment agency worked with a loan company to deceive and pressure Yuli to enter into a sham loan agreement as part of a scheme to hide the illegal agency fee charges.
Yuli was pressured to sign a document, as she believed it was an official government procedure that involves payments through salary deductions. Her agency instructed her to make “repayments” in five instalments of $HK3,000 to the loan company and a further HK$3,000 to the agency in order to make up for the HK$18,000.
Later on, when her employer ended her employment, she was compensated with HK$13,600. However, Yuli’s agency told her that the amount had to be handed over so as to secure new employment in Hong Kong. Without knowing that she was grossly overcharged, Yuli agreed in order to continue working in the country.
Seeking Justice Back Home
When Yuli returned to Indonesia in May 2016, she sought help from the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (SBMI) who referred the case to JWB in Hong Kong. JWB then brought in a team of lawyers from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to advise and represent Yuli.
With the team’s help, Yuli brought a civil claim at the Small Claims Tribunal against the employment agency and the loan company.
In June 2020, the Tribunal granted a default judgement for Yuli–neither the employment nor loan agencies showed up for the hearing. Both the employment agency and the loan company were ordered to pay Yuli back. She was to receive the entire sum of illegitimate fees collected, along with additional costs and interest.
A Reminder for All
Yuli’s case was a success against those who exploit workers and expect them to just disappear when they return home. However, hers is just one of the endless cases regarding illegal agency fees that JWB handles. Far too many go home and give up their case, highlighting just how important access to justice, across borders, is for those who cannot stay in Hong Kong to pursue their claims. Making this a reality requires teamwork, and we are immensely thankful to Skadden and SBMI for their partnership in this case.
*Name changed to protect client’s privacy