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Issue No. 42 December 2 - 8, 2001 Quezon City, Philippines
of Filipino migrant workers joined foreign domestics from various nationalities
in a big march-rally in Hong Kong to protest proposed wage cuts and the
abolition of live-out arrangements. Organized Filipino domestics said President
Arroyo had already supported the Chinese authorities’ twin moves.
Thousands of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) from various nationalities marched on the streets of Hong Kong Sunday to protest the proposed wage cuts and abolition of live-out arrangements. Filipinos, who compose the bulk of domestics on the Chinese island, made up the main contingent of the march.
The march, led by the Asian Migrant Coordinating Body, began at the Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to the Central Government Offices in Central.
The Filipino contingent, allied under the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Unifil-HK), challenged the Philippine Consulate officials to join the big march-rally.
“Mean what you say,” Connie Bragas-Regalado, Unifil-HK chair, said. “Go beyond diplomacy. Turn your verbal opposition into action. March with Filipino domestic helpers against the anti-migrant policies of the Hong Kong government. Show your unwavering support to our struggle.”
The challenge came in the wake of uncertainties raised by some sectors regarding the sincerity of the Arroyo government in supporting the Filipino domestics’ opposition to the proposed wage cuts and abolition of lived-out arrangements.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Consul General Maria Zeneida Angara-Collinson had stated that they are concerned about the wage cut proposal. But the Philippine consul general has publicly endorsed the abolition of the live-out arrangements by saying that the proposal would not "'adversely affect" domestic helpers.
Although the Philippine consulate, along with other foreign consulates, declared they will wage a “diplomatic offensive” with the Hong Kong government on the issue of pay cutbacks, there have been reports that, in her visit to Hong Kong last October, Arroyo had agreed to the plan as well as on the abolition of live-out arrangements. She made as a condition that the jobs of Filipino domestics are not affected.
Last week, at least 31 federations of Filipino migrant workers, church and support groups in Hong Kong demanded the island’s Education and Manpower Bureau to drop its plans to lower the wages of foreign domestics by January next year and other recent anti-migrant proposals.
Maintain minimum wage
The groups, including the Unifil-HK, Association of Concerned Filipinos, Friends of Bethune House and Filipino Friends in Hong Kong also asked the Chinese government to maintain the current low minimum wage of foreign domestics and allow them to live out of their employers’ homes.
In a statement, the groups cited one legislator, Choy So-yuk, who asked that wages of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) be reduced to HK$2,500 a month. They also said that the reason given by the Bureau for its plan – economic slump - is no different from what they claimed in 1998 when they lowered wages by 5%.
The Bureau’s plan came two weeks after it also moved to abolish the living-out arrangements of foreign domestic purportedly to protect the jobs of Chinese domestics. The plan is set to be implemented early next year.
Yet another move by Hong Kong authorities, as proposed by legislator Frederick Fung Kin Kee, is to limit the number of FDHs in the island to 100,000 in order, they said, to protect the jobs of Chinese workers. The proposal however is under further discussion in the light of fears by other authorities that the reduction of quota could lead to a shortage of domestics on the island.
“We are opposed to lower our wages because as we stated in 1998, foreign domestic helpers are already the most lowly paid foreign workers in Hong Kong,” the groups said in their statement. “Since 1991, our wages have increased by only 3 times, the last of which was in 1996, when our wage was $HK3,860. Since the hand-over of Hong Kong to China, not only was there a wage freeze, but a wage cut of 5% in 1999.”
The organizations reminded Hong Kong authorities that the presence of FDHs contributes not only to the Chinese economy but also liberates local women from household chores thus enabling them to find work and increase the earnings of their families.
Reports said that foreign domestics – many of them Filipinos – usually work an average of 16 hours a day aside from being on call for 24 hours.
“They are given crucial responsibilities by their employers, like taking care of the children, elderly and in fact of the whole family,” the groups said. “Since most of them live in their employer's house, they are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation like being made to do illegal work by their employers.”
Lowering the wages of foreign domestics, they said, would lower their purchasing power thus further depressing the earnings of local retailers. It would also affect the remittances that they send back to their families who are faced by rising prices of basic commodities and services.
‘Racist and anti-migrant’
The groups denounced Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower Philip Chok Kin-fun for suggesting that FDHs are a factor in Hong Kong’s economic slump and for denying labor authorities are being “racist and anti-migrant” whenever government lowers the minimum wages of migrant workers.
In the first place, the groups said, Choc Kin-fun should realize that foreign workers were not behind the economic crisis in Hong Kong. Authorities, they said, are indeed racist and anti-migrant whenever migrant workers, especially domestics, become the target of a series of minimum wage cutbacks, infringements on other rights such as abolishing maternity benefits, imposing a service tax on maids and a levy on employers of FDHs. Bulatlat.com