ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—A court’s decision involving Filipinos as complainants and accused placed in focus how compatriots treat each other on foreign soil.
Virgil, aka “Gie,” Balajadia was convicted on February 8 by the Auckland District Court of five charges, with two of the five jointly with husband Luisito. The court ruled the couple, owners of 3 Kings Food restaurant, provided fraudulent and misleading information on the employment arrangements of five Filipino chefs, the complainants, to the Immigration New Zealand (INZ) during the workers’ visa application. The court also ruled the Balajadias underpaid the workers while in their employ.
In a statement, the INZ quoted the unnamed Auckland District Court judge as saying: “You betrayed the trust of the victims who were strangers to this country and believed that you had their best interests at heart.”
“The judge went onto say that the working and living conditions of the victims was [sic] not far removed from a modern day form of slavery,” the INZ quoted the judge as saying.
Gie was sentenced to 26 months imprisonment and her husband eight months of home detention.
The conviction of the Balajadias was the latest affecting Filipinos, and with compatriots illegally recruiting them.
On April 4, 2017, Loraine Anne Jayme of Te Aroha (in Waikato region) was sentenced to 11 months and two weeks of house arrest for forging work experience documents and applications to 17 Filipino dairy workers. Jayme is also married to a Filipino, and both are dual citizens.
In 2015, prior to the Jayme case, nearly a hundred Filipino dairy workers were duped by recruitment agents. This created uproar in New Zealand especially since Filipinos are favored dairy workers in the country.
That prompted Filipino migration authorities a year later to visit New Zealand and explain to Kiwi counterparts the recruitment system and labor migration laws and regulations of the Philippines.
THE 3 Kings Food restaurant is found in the suburb of Birkenhead, four kilometers outside of Auckland’s central business district.
One of the Balajadias’ victims got sponsored and worked with 3 Kings Food from April 2014 to July 2015. He complained of working at least ten hours a day for six days a week, allegedly with no breaks.
However, the complaining worker was paid for only 40 hours a week and did not get any pay for his final 3.5 months with 3 Kings. The worker was contracted to work for a minimum of 30 hours a week at an hourly rate of NZ$16 (P608.27 at NZ$1=P38.02 current exchange rates), the INZ said.
According to the website “Employment New Zealand,” which is part of the country’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the minimum wage rates (before tax) as at April 1, 2017, were NZ$15.75 per hour. The minimum wage will increase to $16.50 per hour on April 1, 2018.
The complainant’s case was brought to INZ after he reported to the Honorary Philippine Consul in Auckland Paulo Garcia.
Calculations by New Zealand’s Labour Inspectorate estimate that the victim may have been underpaid by 3 Kings of approximately NZ$15,000 in wages, plus NZ$2,000 less than the minimum wage, and NZ$5,000 in holiday pay.
THE male victim the court didn’t identify was said to have rented a makeshift room in the Balajadias’ garage, paying the couple NZ$150 weekly.
“He was told he would be reported to the police and sent home if he did not perform well in his job,” INZ Assistant General Manager Peter Devoy said. “He could only leave the house for short periods of time and cleaned the defendants’ house on Mondays when the restaurant was closed.”
This Filipino victim has remained in the country on a valid visa to work for another employer. The four others have left New Zealand.
“We will not tolerate employers who exploit migrant labor for their own commercial advantage and will not hesitate to prosecute in cases where warranted,” Mr. Devoy was quoted in the INZ statement as saying.
Both Virgil and Luisito were ordered by the court to pay NZ$7,200 (P268,212 at P37.30 = NZ$1) each in reparation to the victims.
There are 26 licensed Filipino recruitment agencies given the green light to recruit workers to New Zealand. These are members of the network Australia and New Zealand Association of Employment Providers of the Philippines.
The New Zealand government released in October last year a booklet for employers when recruiting Filipino workers titled “Are you recruiting migrant workers from the Philippines? What you need to know.”
JEREMAIAH OPINIANO reporting from Adelaide, Australia