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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Up to 1,000 domestic helpers affected in Hong Kong ticketing debacle, consulate fears

Philippine diplomats trying to find out just how many people have been left in the lurch

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 6:14pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 December, 2017, 11:29pm

The Philippine mission in Hong Kong has appealed for those affected by the ticketing fiasco caused by a local travel agency to report their cases to the consulate, as diplomats fear 1,000 potential victims are involved.

As of 5pm on Wednesday, 131 people had lodged their case with the Philippines consulate general.

Until the consulate confirmed just how many people were involved, officials were unable to grapple with the extent of the situation. The consulate confirmed it had spoke with the co-owner of agency Peya Travel, Donna Boyce, on Tuesday but text messages on Wednesday went unanswered.

“We are going to be coordinating with the police to straighten this thing out and to make sure we get a good picture of the extent people are affected,” Roderico Atienza, deputy consul general and acting head of post, told the Post.

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“The important thing out is finding out the extent of the problem. The situation is pretty much the same for everybody and the documentation will show we will get an accurate picture of how many people are affected … then at least we know who qualifies for some kind of redress.”

Christmas travel plans were thrown into disarray when tickets bought through Peya Travel – which specialises in flights popular with domestic helpers – could not be guaranteed and money paid by customers was put at risk with no certainty people would get a refund.

“We have to make sure the owners take proper responsibility and they don’t make a run for it,” Atienza said.

The government’s Travel Agents Registry temporarily revoked the licence of Peya Travel and summoned the firm on Wednesday morning, halting it from doing new business. The Travel Industry Council, the regulator of inbound and outbound travel agencies, also “suspended temporarily” the agency’s membership.

The consulate urged all affected customers to come to the mission in Admiralty on Thursday to register their case. People should bring their Philippine passport or Hong Kong identity card including a photocopy of their ticket or booking documents.

Diplomats fear the scale of the problem – which has seen scores of people miss flights since Sunday – stretches to bookings made from June for flights until March next year. “We are talking about hundreds if not 1,000,” the senior consular official said.

Finding out how many people were affected has been difficult for the consulate, as Peya Travel either could not or would not tell officials how many customers faced missing flights.

“We are not getting that number from the company itself and the police aren’t in the position to know how many people are affected,” Atienza said.

The end goal for the consulate and Manila is to find out how many people qualify for some kind of unspecified “redress” – details of which are yet to be determined. “We want to make sure they [Peya Travel] are answerable,” Atienza added.

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The consulate saw the incident as a commercial dispute but it was for the Hong Kong police to determine whether criminal activity or behaviour was involved.

“But of course with the numbers affected, and they are all making complaints, we are talking a huge amount of money here. Obviously it is a scandal at the very least,” Atienza said.

Diplomats were investigating whether a technical glitch, cited by Peya Travel as the problem for failure to confirm flight bookings, was the problem based on information prior to the situation emerging.

The company had operated “rather well” until now, with minor complaints relating to customer service in the past, according to the consulate. Atienza added: “But a failure to deliver a service is something else.”

Meanwhile, TNG, the cashless payments company popular with domestic helpers for remittances, announced it was giving away HK$500,000 to help those affected pay for new flights. The gift would come in the form of HK$1,000 to help at least 500 helpers. TNG would start the one-day giveaway on Thursday, from 10am to 5pm, at World-Wide House in Central at store 154.

The TNG digital wallet app is well used by helpers. The company said the money could be used to pay for flights and helpers could withdraw cash from a 7-Eleven convenience store. The money would only be given to existing members of its wallet app, the company said, and those applying must have proof they were affected by the flight fiasco.

Cathay Pacific had stepped up efforts to assist as many helpers as it could, despite flights on all major airlines to the Philippines largely being fully booked through Christmas Day. The airline was offering so-called “distress fares” to fill any remaining seats. Cathay was also reviewing plans to put larger planes on its Manila route to get more helpers back home for Christmas.

Gina Aplaon, an affected customer interviewed by the Post on Tuesday, said her employer bought her a new air ticket so she could be home in Manila in time for Christmas.

As for being left out of pocket, Aplaon was hopeful the original money would be returned.

“We’ve been to the Philippine consulate and spoke to our vice-consul general, and they have tried to figure out how they can help resolve our issues. We hope to know soon if they manage to help refund our tickets,” she said.

The TIC has said very little on the issue and executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung and chairman Jason Wong Chun-tat did not answer phone calls. However, the police said they have passed on the case to the travel agency regulator to handle

Cathay Pacific urged helpers who needed to discuss options to get home to the Philippines to contact its call centre at 2747 3333 or use Twitter or Facebook to send a private message.

Additional reporting by Danny Mok