Lam asked to improve condition of Filipino workers

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Consul General Raly Tejada held a meeting with Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Dec.5

Workers’ rights were at the front and centre of the first meeting between Philippine Consul General Raly Tejada and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Dec. 5.

Tejada said he raised critical issues which affect the welfare of some 238,000 overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong: these include the suitability of accommodations for domestic workers, long working hours and the continued incidence of illegal lending companies duping domestic helpers into pawning off their passports.

He also reminded Lam to “push as promised the creation of caregiver class as a new category of worker.”

Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, general manager of the Mission for Migrant Workers, said the provision of better accommodations has been a perennial concern among domestic helpers, especially because of the live-in rule which requires domestic workers to stay with their employers in their residence.

“Some sleep in the kitchen, the hallway, the bathtub, on top of a refrigerator,” she said in an interview on Dec.8. “There’s even an instance where one was made to stay in what looked like a doghouse.”

In October this year, one domestic helper was allegedly made to sleep in the hallway by her employer, with her picture sitting outside the flat, by the door, going viral. The Philippine Consulate General learned that her employer has locked her out of the flat more than once.

The consul general also asked Hong Kong’s top official to re-examine the 2-week rule for dismissed foreign domestic helpers. Under the Standard Employment Contract, domestic workers are only allowed to remain in Hong Kong within the said period when their contract is prematurely terminated.

They must find a new employer immediately, which forces them to accept jobs with possibly low wages and substandard benefits. “This makes them vulnerable,” Edwina Antonio, executive director of the Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge told Hong Kong News.

Shelters like Bethune House provide domestic helpers a place to stay when they are suddenly terminated. “Sometimes, they will be terminated late at night.  We will get calls, we will ask them where they are and pick them up,” she said.

Aside from these concerns, however, Antonio said the unfair current setup concerning the qualification for long-service payment should have been also discussed in the meeting between the two officials.

“Kahit 20 years ka na, kung nag-desisyon ka na di mo i-re-renew contract mo, di mo makukuha long-service payment mo,” she said.

This was not been the case before, though. Antonio said that as long as a domestic helper has been employed for 5 years and beyond, she is entitled to receive long-service payment regardless of who terminates the contract. “Pag gusto mo na umalis, makukuha mo,” she said.

“Filipinos will not abandon Hong Kong”

Antonio added that another issue which should have been given attention to is the effect of the protests on the right of domestic workers to have a rest day.

She said employers should not be allowed to use the ongoing protests in Hong Kong as an excuse to keep foreign domestic helpers from having their day-off on Sundays.

“Di dapat gamitin yun ng employer na dahilan, na wag sila mag-day off at lumabas pag Sunday dahil delikado. Yung pagsimba, pag-remit, nagagawa lang yun pag Linggo,” she said. “Puwede namang umiwas ang domestic workers sa area na may protesta.”

Meanwhile, Tejada expressed his commitment to Lam that the Filipino community will stand with Hong Kong amid the turbulent political atmosphere, while recognizing that the situation of the Filipinos here is largely dependent on the condition of the economy.

“I also stated the Filipino peoples’ collective hope for peace and prosperity to return soon to Hong Kong. I also emphasized that the fortunes of all Filipinos living and working in the territory is tied to its continued stability and economic growth,” he said.

“I added that Filipinos love HK and that living and working in HK is something that they deeply cherish and assured her that Filipinos will not abandon HK in its time of need.”

Hong Kong has been rocked by anti-government protests for seven months, with protesters seeking five demands, only one of which has been met so far – the withdrawal of the extradition bill.

Lam nixed the bill which will allow the extradition of criminal fugitives to jurisdictions which Hong Kong does not have a treaty with, including mainland China and Taiwan. Those who oppose the bill said it will be used by Beijing against its critics.

Other demands of the protesters include: implementation of universal suffrage, an independent probe into police violence be conducted, the protests to not be characterized as “riots,” and for amnesty to be granted to protesters.