Migrant groups hit policy on terminated FDW contracts amid pandemic

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Domestic workers in Central. (FILE)

Members of the foreign domestic worker (FDW) community called out the Hong Kong government for its recent policy shift on prematurely terminated contracts to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the city.

Hong Kong announced on Wednesday that terminated FDWs can no longer apply for an extension of stay as visitors and must leave after finishing their contract or within two weeks from termination, whichever is earlier.

The policy change is an apparent revert to the “two-week rule” which human rights groups condemn, since it forces migrant workers to stay with employers under subpar or at worst, abusive working conditions.

The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) said the decision by the government amid the pandemic is “unfair and inconsiderate.”

“The government should accommodate domestic workers to look for jobs because of lockdown,” AMCB spokesperson Sringatin said. “The real solution is for the HK government to provide temporary shelter for domestic workers in transition of job.”

Sringatin said the government’s decision will make it difficult for employers to find new workers in Hong Kong.

The government cited the public health risk posed by dormitories where domestic workers await the processing of their employment documents for its decision, as well as the prevention of “job-hopping” practices.

For Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, chairperson of migrant support group United Filipinos in Hong Kong, the policy shift will lead to employers committing more abusive acts.

“Mapipilitang magtiis lalo na mga migrante para hindi sila ma-terminate. Lalong lalaganap ang abuso ng mga abusadong employer,” Balladares-Pelaez said in a message.

[Translation: Migrants will be forced to withstand anything just to not get terminated. Abuses from abusive employers will become more rampant.]

Hong Kong Federation of Domestic Worker Unions Organising Secretary Peggy Shek echoed Balladares-Pelaez’s disappointment over the government’s decision.

“Two-week rule makes the MDWs become very fragile,” Shek said.

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Balladares-Pelaez called on the Philippine Consulate to address the problems this may cause to Filipinos, and sought help by providing decent accommodation to prematurely terminated workers.

“Dapat ay proactive ang Konsulado dito,” she said. “Gayundin dapat makipag-usap ang Consulate sa government sa madalas na pagdiscriminate sa mga Pinoy domestic workers at i-apela ang malaking fine once matikitan dahil malaki pa ang fine sa sahod nila.”

[Translation: The Consulate should be proactive here. Also the Consulate should talk to the government on the discrimination against Filipino domestic workers and appeal the huge fine paid when issued a fixed penalty ticket because the fine is much larger than their earnings.]

Worries over COVID-19 clusters within the domestic worker community arose after an agency-managed dormitory in Tai Po had an outbreak involving at least 14 people—majority of which were helpers. A local lawmaker also sought the government to look into ordering helpers to stay home and avoid gatherings during their days off.

Philippine Consul General Raly Tejada in a message to Hong Kong News said they are constantly in contact with Hong Kong’s Labour and Immigration departments to ensure the welfare of Filipino migrants in the city is protected.

“We will raise this issue with them if it causes undue hardship to our workers,” he said.

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