LD to study annual medical check-ups for FDHs

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Filipino domestic workers

THE Labour Department (LD) has promised to look into the proposal for foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) to have an annual medical check-up due to the “increasing number of deaths” among Filipino domestic workers.

At the recent Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting between Hong Kong governemnt officials and Filipino diplomats, LD officials noted that former Consul General Bernardita Catalla proposed that the annual check-ups should be mandatory.

“LD said that (Catalla) brought up the matter, in a meeting with LD’s officials led by Secretary Dr. Law Chi-kwong on 30 August 2017, the possibility of mandatory annual check-up for FDHs due to the rising number of deaths of Filipino domestic helpers from 2016 to 2017,” according to a report of the TWG meeting that was submitted to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila.

“LD promised to provide information once updates are available,” the report added.

Welfare Officer Judith G. Santos, of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), said Labor Attache Jalilo Dela Torre and Vice Consul Bob Quintin pushed for the annual medical check-ups during the last TWG meeting on March 14.

“So, (the LD) will study this. Hopefully, they will be convinced. The last TWG meeting was good,” Santos said.

She noted that the number of OFWs in Hong Kong that the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) assisted for repatriation due to sickness or death had been increasing since 2014. In 2014, only 71 OFWs were repatriated but this figure increased to 80 in 2015, 113 in 2016, and 189 in 2017, Santos said.

“We think this means that there is also greater awareness that they can approach OWWA for assistance,” she added.

Santos said the number of welfare assistance cases involving OFWs with health and medical problems stood at 113 in 2014, dropped to 129 in 2015, rose to 244 in 2016, and increased again to 416 in 2017.

On the other hand, there were 134 hospitalized OFWs that were visited by OWWA officers here in HK in 2014, 100 in 2015, 151 in 2016, and 194 in 2017, she added.

The illnesses reported included stroke (36 percent), cancer (27 percent), tuberculosis/ lung problems (13 percent), mild depression (21 percent), and fracture/ spinal problems (three percent).

Last year, the number of OFWs who died in HK and were repatriated back to the Philippines with the help of OWWA reached 47. In the first three months of 2018, OWWA repatriated 15 dead OFWs from the city.

The latest OFW to die was Mary Jane R. Jamon, who was found dead in her employers’ home in North Point on April 4.

“We advise our workers to tell their employers that they need a check-up if they feel something. If the employer does not listen, call us or their agency,” Santos said.

120 days of sick leave

She said an FDH earns two days of sick leaves a month on her first year of employment (or a total of 24 sick leaves). On her second year, she earns four sick leaves a month (or a total of 48 days).

Santos said an FDH could go on sick leave for a maximum of 120 days (four months) for very serious cases. After that, the employer can already serve a notice of termination.

“The problem is if you’re just new on the job and you get seriously ill. And based on the trend that we see, it’s no longer because of their age. There are cases of workers in their early 30s who have a stroke. Sometimes, it’s leukemia,” she said.

Santos advised those who have friends and relatives that need repatriation to contact OWWA first before buying an airline ticket. Airlines sometimes ask for additional documents before they agree to fly a sick worker back to the Philippines.

Santos said OWWA assists in the repatriation, not just of the physically ill, but also of those suffering mental illnesses.

“For these clients, the airlines require two escorts. They are already fit to travel but that’s a two-hour flight. What if the escort needs to go to the toilet and he has no help?,” she said.

In her meeting with Secretary Law, Catalla said the mandatory annual checkup would improve the welfare of OFWs in the city.

“There was an agreement that domestic helpers should be protected and welfare should be further improved,” Catalla said in an interview.

She added that she asked that an initiative be undertaken so Filipino domestic workers could have a mandatory annual medical check-up.

Long working hours

“I noticed that in recent months, there was a higher number of deaths among Filipino domestic workers,” Catalla said.

“They sleep at night, the following day, they don’t wake up and the employer opens the bedroom and sees the worker lying dead and not breathing,” she said.

“I asked them to consider a [system] so that workers could go through annual medical check-up. The long working hours could lead to some natural causes of death,” she added.

Catalla also said that if the employer and the helper were aware of the health condition of the helper, the illness could be treated.

 

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