83 percent of foreign domestic workers experienced discrimination amid COVID-19 crisis – FADWU

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FADWU presscon

Foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Hong Kong lost their jobs after their employers suspected them of being a vector of the deadly novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU) said in a survey launched on June 28.

The termination was part of the discrimination which FADWU said some 83 percent of foreign domestic workers experienced since February, as cases of COVID-19 infection increased in Hong Kong. It was also when some employers disallowed their domestic workers from going out on their rest day, following an appeal from the Labour Department in late January for FDWs to stay home on Sundays as a social distancing measure.

FADWU said that the domestic workers were terminated even if they tested negative for COVID-19. One example is a Filipina domestic worker who was fired in February after she was initially allowed to go out on her rest day.

Rowena Borja, chairwoman of the Overseas Domestic Workers Union,  said the domestic worker said she will only go out for two hours to go to church.

“When she went home, she has been terminated by her employer,” Borja said. “The boss said – pack your things and go.”

Her employer also asked her to return some 2,000 HKD worth in lai see money – or the “lucky money” customarily given out on Chinese New Year.

“We encouraged her to file a case against her employer,” Borja said.

Another example is when a Filipina domestic worker was allegedly fired while under quarantine. The domestic worker was sent to the hospital on March 26 and was diagnosed with respiratory tract infection. Her employer sent her to a boarding house to undergo a 14-day quarantine, but she was terminated even before she completed the said period.

“The employer changed her mind and she’s been terminated,” Borja said.  “The employer packed all her things and put them at the building lobby. She was also asked to sign a termination letter saying that she was the one who terminated her contract.”

An Indonesian domestic worker also lost her job while under quarantine. She underwent checkup on March 11 after feeling some stomach pain and was also tested for COVID-19. The results were negative, but she was also made to undergo quarantine and was subsequently fired.

Shiela Estrada, chairwoman of the Progressive Labor Union of Domestic Workers said they want to help domestic workers file cases against their respective employers as they were fired on the grounds of having an ailment, which can be considered a violation of the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO).

According to Clyde & Co., a law firm which provides legal advice to businesses, “the infection / suspected infection of the Novel Coronavirus falls within the meaning of “disability” under the DDO.”

The dismissal of employers due to suspicion that they have been infected with COVID019 “will likely be considered discriminatory and unlawful under the DDO.”

DDO cases are handled by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). Estrada decried, however, that the EOC’s supposed move to disallow filing complaints through email by July 27 will make it difficult for domestic workers to file complaints.

“Emails will not be accommodated,” she said. “They took out this access for us.”

“If the government says there are no complaints, it’s because there’s no access for us to complain,” she said.