PCG seeks mandatory annual checkup for Pinay helpers

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Consul-General Bdernardita Catalla (3rd from left) and Dr. Law Chi-kwong (3rd from right) with other Philippine and Hong Kong officials (photo courtesy of the PCG).

PHILIPPINE officials have requested the Hong Kong government to make mandatory an annual medical checkup for Filipino domestic helpers following the “higher number of deaths” among them.

Consul-General Bernardita Catalla told Hong Kong News that she and other officials of the Philippine Consulate met with Hong Kong Labour officials led by Secretary Dr. Law Chi-kwong on Aug. 30 to discuss the welfare and protection of Filipino domestic helpers in the city.

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

She added that she asked that an initiative be taken so Filipino domestic workers could have an annual medical checkup.

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

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

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

As of the first half of the year, 43 Filipinos died in Hong Kong, and 39 of those were  caused by various illnesses. Also discussed was the growing number of cases of Filipino domestic helpers being brought by their employer to the mainland.

“It was the first time I heard a Hong Kong official mention human trafficking. Dr. Law said they don’t know the extent of the practice of bringing maids.

“He said they have a way of knowing whether a helper is brought to the mainland for rest and recreation by checking the frequency of the travels. They can do that through the Immigration Department,” Catalla said.

She added that the Hong Kong government was considering the possibility of imposing a higher penalty on those found to be violating the employment contract, which requires that a helper should only work in the address stated in it.

During the meeting, Catalla said Dr. Law mentioned “human trafficking” and the death of Lorain Asuncion, who was reported to have fallen to her death on July 24 in Shenzhen when she was taken there by her employers.

“Hong Kong has no anti-trafficking ordinance, but he (Dr. Law) mentioned the word. Apparently, they are alarmed that it could be happening.

“He said they are looking at the frequency [of travels of Filipino domestic helpers] as a way to establish the fact that employers could be violating the contract and the regulation. If a domestic helper is doing work in another residence, then that’s a violation,” Catalla added.

Wage, food allowance hike

Meanwhile, a non-government organization has supported the foreign domestic workers’ bid to increase their minimum allowable wage and food allowance.

Open Door, a group that seeks to promote mutual understanding and respect between FDWs and their employers , said they were backing the $5,500 MAW and $2,500 food allowance. The position paper was submitted to the Labour Department.

The group said some employers could bear the higher wage as FDWs take care of their family.

As for the food allowance, the group said domestic workers require nutritious food owing to the physical demand of their work.

“Apart from setting a more decent food allowance level, we recommend the (LD) indeed create a mechanism to monitor this and other conditions of the domestic workers…” the group said.

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