Half of pregnant domestic workers in HK sacked illegally

Daisy Cl Mandap
PathFinders says that in 2013, about half of pregnant foreign domestic workers who sought its help had their contracts terminated illegally.

CONTINUING WOES. Filipino workers in Hong Kong

HONG KONG – Illegal termination, lack of medical and institutional support, prohibitive living costs and sex discrimination are just some of the problems faced by nearly half of all pregnant domestic workers in Hong Kong.

This was among the findings that PathFinders, a non-governmental organization that provides help to migrant women and their children, sought to bring to the government’s attention at a Legislative Council’s manpower panel hearing set for Thursday, February 27.

In a paper it submitted ahead of the hearing, PathFinders said that in 2013, about half of pregnant foreign domestic workers (FDWs) who sought its help (31 out of more than 60) had their contracts terminated illegally.

“These include those who were terminated outright, and those who were forced to do the termination themselves because they were not informed of their rights”, said Luna Chan, PathFinders’ chief operations officer.

There could be more, since many of those who suddenly find themselves without a job while pregnant could be easily swayed to just return to their home country.

Several factors work against their favor.

For one, if they opt to stay in Hong Kong and file a complaint, they will have to worry about paying for their own needs, including expensive pre-natal check-ups.

“Once a FDW has been unlawfully terminated from her employment, she is no longer entitled to receive public health care,” said PathFinder in its report.

After giving birth in a public hospital, the FDW who is now considered a tourist because she no longer has a work visa, is slapped with a HK$90,000 bill.

Her woes do not stop here. 

“This outstanding debt due to the government will then impact her ability to obtain a birth certificate for her child and may taint her immigration record, thereby limiting her future employment opportunities in Hong Kong,” said the PathFinders report.

There are other problems to worry about, like paying the visa extension fee of HK$140 (about US$30) while she pursues her case. All these, on top of worrying about material needs, for herself and her newborn child.

Luckily, says Chan, cases of illegal termination filed by pregnant domestic workers often succeed.

“But, while there is a system for them to seek justice, if there is no NGO to help them, it will be very difficult for them to succeed,” said Chan.

When a case of illegal termination is brought to its attention, PathFinders immediately refers it to other NGOs that provide legal assistance, like Christian Action and Helpers for Domestic Helpers. 

But all of their other needs, from ante-natal check-ups with volunteer doctors to buying maternity and baby supplies, are all provided by PathFinders.

Easing the burden

With about 600 women and children in dire need seeking its help each year, it is but natural for the NGO to look at the government for relief.

Included in its long wish list are measures that would ease the burden on pregnant and unfairly treated FDWs, like allowing them access to public health care both for themselves and their babies, while pursuing a case for unlawful termination.

PathFinders also urges that an FDW seeking legal redress be given access to adequate support, from shelter and food, to visa fee extensions.

As a preemptive measure, the group is also seeking to get the labor department provide training to first-time employer and employment agencies on labor rights and obligations, specially in relation to pregnancy.

For the FDWs, there should be training sessions on family planning and legal rights. The labor department and tribunal should also open on Sundays to better serve FDWs.

But PathFinders is not only looking at the government to provide much-needed relief to its clients.

Chan said they are looking into filing a sex discrimination case in court against an employer who dismisses a pregnant FDW.

“That is a new platform that we may take to get relief for an illegally terminated worker,” she added.

Beyond these, PathFinders wants migrant women, especially those who are pregnant or have overstayed their visas and have children with them, to seek them out. 

As the mission statement on its website says, the group is there to help them “find a dignified path toward a safe and legal future.” – Rappler.com

Daisy CL Mandap is a veteran journalist, having worked for various newspapers and TV stations in the Philippines and in Hong Kong. She is also a lawyer and migrants rights activist. For the past 14 years, she has worked as the editor of The SUN-HK, a bi-weekly Filipino community newspaper published in Hong Kong by her husband, Leo A. Deocadiz.

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