NEWS:Raid on agencies suspected of supplying discount maids

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Subject: NEWS:Raid on agencies suspected of supplying discount maids
From: Jyothi Kanics (jkanics@igc.apc.org)
Date: Fri Jan 08 1999 - 16:39:12 EST


Raid on agencies suspected of supplying discount maids
BY CINDY SUI
The South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), January 8, 1999

Seven employment agencies have been accused of charging 3,000 Indonesian
maids excessive fees and offering them to employers at almost half the
legal minimum wage.

The Immigration Department investigation - the largest ever conducted -
began shortly after the South China Morning Post revealed last May that
Indonesian maids were being provided at black-market wages.

It is against the law to provide or employ a maid for below the minimum
wage of $3,860 per month.

It is also illegal for agencies to charge the maids more than $386 for
helping them find an employer.

But the seven agencies had offered maids for as low as $2,000. They had
also charged them service fees ranging from $6,000 to $21,000, immigration
officers said yesterday.

Officers raided the seven agencies on Wednesday and seized thousands of
passports, employment contracts, ledgers and blank salary receipts
pre-signed by the maids.

The agencies have not been named pending further investigation.

The women were forced to work for months without a salary in order to pay
off the debt, officials said.

Many of the women had no idea how much they should be charged or what the
minimum wage was, officials said.

"They're desperate to come here to work. Many of them find out only after
they arrive that they've been cheated," an Immigration Department spokesman
said. "A number of them also cannot read, so they would not understand the
contracts they were signing."

Employers benefited by saving as much as $44,640 for hiring a maid for two
years.

Eight owners and employees of the targeted agencies were taken to the
Immigration Department for questioning. Six were released unconditionally.
Two owners were found with equipment used to make false identification
cards and were released on bail of $2,000 and $5,000 pending further
investigation.

One agency, found to be operating without a licence, has been shut. The
others can continue doing business pending the investigation.


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