In Hong Kong, Filipino domestic workers lose jobs over coronavirus outbreak

MANILA, Philippines – As the 2019 novel coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, an increasing number of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong have lost their jobs after employers fired them over mounting concerns spurred by the global health crisis.

The Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong, Philippine Overseas Labor Office, and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) received reports some 40 Filipino domestic workers from the city were displaced as of Tuesday, March 3.

Of the 40, 35 were let go by their employers, OWWA Administrator Hans Cacdac announced on Twitter.

Why are workers losing their jobs? The reasons for firing domestic workers range form employers' supposed relocation amid slowing business operations to issues regarding days off taken by workers.

According to Cacdac, 16 out of 35 Filipinos reported being fired after employers claimed they were leaving the city, where 100 confirmed coronavirus cases have been found as of Tuesday afternoon. Among those infected were two Filipino domestic workers. 

Meanwhile, 12 of the 35 employer-initiated terminations were due to issues regarding rest days.

Hong Kong City’s labor department earlier urged domestic workers not to leave their employers’ homes for their days off, saying it could reduce the risk of transmission. But a report by the South China Morning Post, based on accounts from migrant groups, said employers have taken the suggestion too far as they misinterpreted the government’s advisory as a mandatory measure.

The situation has left many domestic workers prohibited from leaving their homes on days off, but still made to carry out work errands such as going to the market and buying supplies outside.

How did the Philippines respond? Upon hearing of reports of fired workers, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said he was "deeply disgusted" with the city, which "begged" the Philippines to allow domestic workers to return.

"When the West turned on China for COVID-19 I stood up for her before the vicious West at the ASEAN-COVID 19 MEETING. I said that I begged my President to let Filipino domestic workers return to their jobs in HK showing my trust in the Chinese city. This I guess is thank you," Locsin said.

We'll prepare for their repatriation pronto. Deeply disgusted with HK wch begged us to let domestic workers return to work. I extracted promise from Chinese ambassador that they'd be given same protection from COVID-19 as HK residents. I shoulda specified "from Hongkongers." https://t.co/3Ly1CHCfCm — Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) March 3, 2020

Locsin was referring to the Philippines' earlier decision to allow stranded OFWs to return to work in Hong Kong and Macau, provided they sign a declaration stating they know and understand the risks involved.

Cacdac said the Philippine government is now helping concerned overseas Filipino workers in filing complaints related to workers' rights to take days off. Efforts are also underway, he added, to assist displaced workers in claiming settlements against their employers.

Aside from this, OWWA will also provide aid to displaced OFWs who decide to permanently return to the Philippines.

Cacdac said majority of domestic workers displaced due to their employers' relocation have returned to the Philippines to await their new job visas. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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