Domestic staff agencies here and in the Philippines are in a tug of war over plans to charge Hongkongers a HK$5,400 placement fee when they employ a Filipino helper. The Society of Hong Kong Accredited Recruiters of the Philippines (Sharp) stopped sending domestic helpers to the city on February 27, fuelling a shortage of domestic helpers. The move came after the society tried in vain to persuade the Manila government to remove a ban on charging helpers a placement fee of a month's salary plus airfare. Now, Sharp has changed tactics, diverting pressure from the Manila government and the helpers and instead demanding Hong Kong employers pay the placement fee instead "We feel that the Hong Kong people can very well afford it," said Alfredo Palmiery, president of Sharp, a 60-member organisation that provides 63 per cent of all Filipinos sent to the city as helpers. "We are losing income because of the moratorium. We are suffering. But we are willing to make this sacrifice," said Palmiery. He said that employers in other countries such as Malaysia and Singapore are already paying a placement fee. "The Philippine agencies have no choice. We need money to pay for the [maids'] plane tickets. But if we charge the Filipinos the fee, we can have our licence revoked," he said. He then claimed that Sharp had just reached a deal with the General Chamber of Hong Kong Manpower Agencies for employers here to pay the fee. But Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, vice-chairwoman of the chamber, which represents 300 local agencies, insisted that no deal had yet been struck. "They have never talked to us about this," she said. "They have only asked some members to send the local agencies a letter about increasing prices by HK$5,400. None of us have replied," Liu said yesterday. She said her chamber would not be asking Hongkongers to pay up as it would harm local agencies. She also believed Sharp would call off the freeze on helpers as it could not afford to lose the Hong Kong market. Palmiery was not available for a response yesterday, but Sharp's secretary general Art Pangilinan clarified that it had struck a deal with a few Hong Kong agencies and had yet to reach an agreement with the chamber. Liu said they were trying to set a date for a meeting with Sharp.