Filipino helpers left in lurch over jobs in Cyprus

Filipinos claim they are HK$30,000 out of pocket after signing up to work in Cyprus, with at least one visa document issued said to be fake

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2012, 3:28am


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Philippine domestic helpers claim they have paid about HK$30,000 each to an employment agency for jobs in Europe that have yet to materialise.

The money was also to pay for the processing of their visas, but at least one document issued was said to be fake.

The Hong Kong Labour Department is investigating after the helpers said they signed contracts to start work as domestics in Cyprus on November 14.

They said the agency, Limestone Overseas and Trading, kept telling them almost daily they would be flying out soon.

Now they claim to be stuck in Hong Kong with no jobs, little money and visas that have either expired or will expire shortly.

One of the group of 21 workers said she made her last payment to the agency - of HK$8,000 for visa processing - on November 3 but was still waiting to fly out.

"I don't know what to do now. Every day they say flying, flying, flying. But no, it's not happening," she said.

Milagros Ipp, of Limestone, denied the women paid as much as they said, saying most of the applicants had paid HK$13,000 to HK$14,000.

She said delays were caused when some of the applicants pulled out, requiring documents to be reprocessed. She also insisted the documents she gave the workers were genuine.

But when the South China Morning Post handed one of the visas to the Cyprus government, the Civil Registry and Migration Department said it was fake.

The Cyprus police were looking into it, the department said.

The embassy of the Philippines in Greece also confirmed that the Philippine Overseas Labour Office in Cyprus had not issued job orders to Limestone to send any workers to Cyprus.

The Labour Department said a licence was issued to the agency last year, and was renewed in June. It had inspected the agency four times, but had received no complaints until recently.

It refused to disclose the number of complaints it had received.

According to the workers the Post talked to, they did not sign any contract with Limestone.

The only document they signed was between them, a company named Ekaterini Chamboulla in Limassol, Cyprus, and a company working with Ipp.

It stated they would start work on November 14 and be paid £980 (HK$12,293) a month for a five-day week. When the jobs failed to materialise they reported the matter to the police, but an officer told them there was insufficient evidence and refused to investigate. He said as long as the agency was operating and continuing to issue assurances, there was little police could do.

At one point the group was stranded at the airport for three days after the agency told them they would be flying that night.

Ipp said this was due to a few applicants quitting suddenly.

One worker whose visa expired on December 1 was stranded in Macau after she went there for the day hoping for a renewal on return and was refused re-entry. She said she applied for the job after a friend pointed out the agency's advert in a newspaper for the Filipino community.

The worker, who previously worked in Dubai, said: "I came here because people said there were a lot of agencies in Hong Kong which could help me find a job elsewhere, such as Canada.

"This is my first attempt, and it has turned out to be a really bad experience."

The Philippine consulate in Hong Kong said it had received complaints about the agency in the past year, but refused to disclose any other details.