Global Work and Travel's Canadian clients worried after liquidation warning

Canadian customers of Global Work and Travel are baffled after a warning from state officials in Queensland, Australia, that their working holiday packages could be in jeopardy because parts of the business in that country are in a voluntary insolvency process.

Global Work and Travel sells working holiday packages to travellers under 30 years old through separate companies in Vancouver, London and on Australia's Gold Coast.

"Anyone who had recently entered into an agreement with Global Work and Travel should contact the company directly to check their travel plans are still in place," says Brian Bauer, executive director of the Office of Fair Trading in Queensland, Australia.

The companies being wound up are Global Work and Travel Co. Pty Ltd and Global Work and Travel Co. (Australia) Pty Ltd. 

Creditor reports obtained by CBC show they owe close to $2 million (Australian). Most of that money is owed to a related company, Global Work and Travel Co. (Asia Pacific) Pty Ltd.

The wind-up comes amid an investigation into the travel company after CBC News and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation uncovered dozens of complaints from customers left stranded overseas without jobs last fall.

Simply an accounting process, says firm

"It is business as usual.… Our customers won't notice a change. It's purely, and simply, an accounting process," says Julia Corben, in a statement explaining that Global Work and Travel will continue to operate under a new name, while two related businesses are being liquidated by an accounting firm.

According to Australian law, an external administrator is only appointed to liquidate companies "that are or likely to become insolvent."

"It might be confusing when people see a travel agency 'going out of business,' but we can reassure the public, suppliers and employees that our business is robust, strong and consumers are safe," says Corben.

The company says it will honour all previous customer contracts with the defunct companies, but some customers are skeptical.

'Scary' for customers

"It's pretty scary" says Edward Nagy, 25, who claims the now closed company owes him a $2,000 refund for a package to teach in South Korea last spring that he cancelled.

"Now that they're claiming they're in liquidation, I don't have much power to do anything to get my money back."

Nagy is one of more than 100 customers who came forward after reading about former Global Work and Travel sales people who told CBC they were trained to lie and mislead customers.

He filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau when Global Work and Travel refused to refund any money.

"They lied about the refund," says Nagy, who claims he only bought the package after a salesman assured him he could get a refund up to three months before departure.

The company says Nagy was never promised a refund and that by the time he cancelled, the company had already paid its South Korean supplier to begin arranging his teaching job.

Nagy says customers are left baffled by conflicting advice.

Global Work and Travel company names

All the Global Work and Travel companies are owned by Himmel Enterprises, which is owned by Pierre Himmelman, his wife, Caryl, and their son, Jurgen.

- Global Work and Travel Co. (Asia Pacific) Pty Ltd. (still operating).

- Global Work and Travel Co. Pty Ltd. (closing).

- Global Work and Travel Co. (Australia) Pty Ltd. (closing).

- Global Work and Travel Co Inc. (Vancouver office).

- The Global Work & Travel Co. Ltd. (U.K. office).

"These are two, long-since-dormant companies that are going through a standard accounting process in order to wrap up," said Jeff Chatterton, a public relations consultant in Kitchener, Ont., who responded when CBC made a request for an interview with Global Work and Travel.

He offered no explanation about why officials in charge of consumer protection in Australia would issue a warning to their customers.

"You'd have to speak with them," said Chatterton.

Customers' money and trips are safe: company

"The consumers in Canada and everywhere else don't need to be concerned. Their money and their assets and the trips are safe," says Chatterton.

But the Office of Fair Trading in Queensland "has concerns about money held by Global Work and Travel on behalf of consumers who had delayed their travel plans," says Bauer.

"If you had a 'credit' with Global Work and Travel, you need to check if it still exists."

The company guarantees that customers who cancel have 10 years to use their deposit toward another trip, but many customer contracts are with the companies that are closing.

Bauer urges consumers who believe they are owed money to contact the liquidator, accounting firm Hall Chadwick.

Meanwhile state officials in Queensland say the liquidation won't prevent them from continuing their investigation of 100 complaints from customers of those companies.

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