Filipina wins ‘groundbreaking’ decision from High Court

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High Court in Admiralty

IN a “groundbreaking” decision, the High Court has granted the appeal of a Filipino domestic worker who wanted to  testify from the Philippines via a video link to pursue her $12,200 claim against her employer before the Labour Tribunal.

High Court Justice Bebe Pui Ying Chu reversed the decision of a Labour Tribunal presiding officer who dismissed the petition of domestic worker Joenalyn D. Mallorca that she be allowed to testify via a video link.

“Without being allowed to give evidence or be present through video link, it could mean that (Mallorca) would be deprived of a fair and public hearing, or the chance to proceed with her claim for what was her entitlement under her contract of employment,” Justice Chu said on July 26.

She ordered the Labour Tribunal to again hear Mallorca’s petition. Migrant advocates hailed the ruling as “groundbreaking,” noting that at least two other migrants were also seeking to testify at the Labour Tribunal via a video link.

“Migrant workers in Hong Kong have received good news from the High Court. …The decision has major implications for migrant domestic workers who cannot remain in the city and can only pursue their claims from home,” Justice Without Borders (JWB), a regional charity supporting crossborder access to compensation for migrant workers, said in a statement.

JWB took up Mallorca’s case on referral from HELP for Domestic Workers (HELP). The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), Philippines-based International Pro Bono Alliance, and Senior Partner Ms. Kareena Teh and her team of pro bono lawyers at Dechert LLP, also helped Mallorca in the case.

Mallorca filed a claim of $12,230.33 at the Labour Tribunal against her employer after she was dismissed in September. However, she had to go back to the Philippines in December to take care of her young children and her elderly mother who was diagnosed with cancer.

“The Labour Department had offered to bring her back here (to testify against her employer) for unpaid wages but she cannot come,” Teh told Justice Chu during the hearing of the case on June 22. “(Mallorca) wants to come back but she cannot come,” she added.

Teh noted that foreign domestic workers are allowed to extend their stay in Hong Kong while they have pending cases in the Labour Tribunal but they are not allowed to work.

And so, many are forced to go home to their countries without pursuing claims against their employers.

“There should be a way for them to sustain their claims if they cannot afford to come back (to HK),” the lawyer said.

She added that two more domestic workers had asked the Labour Tribunal that they be allowed to testify via a video link but these requests were held in abeyance pending the results of Mallorca’s appeal at the High Court. The lawyer said one of the two workers was terminally ill.

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