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Stranded OFWs queue up early for PCG-arranged flights to Manila

Posted on 09 July 2020 No comments
By Vir B. Lumicao

Santos shows her delight at being told by Owwa's Tamayao that she can sign up for the next flight home
At 8:20am today, Jul 9, Lovenrose Santos joined several stranded Filipino domestic workers who lined up for a slot on future group flights to Manila being arranged by the Consulate with Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific.

Santos, 43 and widowed, said before the 9am opening of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, the line of prospective registrants on the side of YF Life Tower on Lockhart Road, Wanchai, had already lengthened to more than a dozen.

The queuing continued when Polo opened its service counters on the 16th floor, where the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration office is located, this time for numbers. A treat of biscuits and instant coffee served by Polo staff enlivened the workers, some of whom said they had not yet had breakfast. 

Pindutin para sa detalye

The registrants who gathered in the conference room said they or their employers had bought them tickets on Cathay Pacific flights, but their bookings had been cancelled. They had booked and rebooked, but to no avail.

One female worker said she missed the flight that left yesterday, Jul 8, and had to register for the next one as her visa would lapse on Jul 18. The woman beside her quickly said hers would expire on Jul 17.

Welfare Officer Virsie Tamayao said the flights are special sorties on Cathay flights that Consul General Raly Tejada arranges with the carrier once enough passengers have listed up.
“We cannot tell when the next flight will be. It depends on whether we get enough number of workers who want to go home. When we have a hundred, or 300, then the Consulate will arrange the flights,” Tamayao said.

She said the criteria for selecting those eligible to join the flights are: the workers have lost their jobs and found no new employers; they have valid air tickets, and they are willing to fly home.
Some of the stranded OFWs  are treated to a snack while waiting to sign up for the next PCG-arranged flights

Santos, who is suffering from a voice defect called spasmodic dysphonia, approached Tamayao and explained she has been stranded in Hong Kong since March.

Penniless and staying with her elder sister who works in Pokfulam, the 43-year-old widow said she wants to go home but her booking on Cathay had been cancelled twice, the first for July 8 and the second for Jul 27.

“My two children are worried. They’ve been asking me when I can go home,” she said, her voice quivering.

Santos said her French male employer lost his job at a financial house in March and went back to France with his family for an indefinite vacation. He plans to return to the city and call back Santos when he finds a new job.

The maid said she agreed to a “no work, no pay” arrangement. This means, her employer has kept her employed so she could retain her visa, which is valid until July 2022. In the meantime, she agreed to go home and wait out the crisis until December, at least.

Tamayao advised Santos to rebook her flight and attach a letter or email from her boss explaining her situation. These would be attached to her registration form for the flight.

The OWWA officer also advised her to apply for the labor department’s DOLE Akap financial aid for displaced OFWs.

To Santos, there is hope at last that she will be home soon.


Filipina facing money laundering & illegal recruitment cases gets legal aid

Posted on No comments
By Vir B. Lumicao

Biscocho and Embrahim appeared in District Court, where their cases are likely to be tried

A Filipina staff who is accused along with her Hong Kong employer in a recruitment agency of conning several jobseekers made their first appearance in the District Court in Wanchai this morning, Jul 9.

Marijane Biscocho, 42, and her boss Lennis Ebrahim, 56, were supposed to enter their plea but this did not happen as the prosecutor said the charges against the two would be amended anew.
Biscocho’s counsel informed the court that legal aid had been granted to his client, and asked for an adjournment for further legal advice.

Judge Kwok granted the adjournment and set the next hearing for Sept 3.

Pindutin para sa detalye

Biscocho was remanded in custody, while Ebrahim’s bail was extended.

The two are charged with money laundering and 19 counts of applying a false trade description when they offered allegedly non-existent jobs in Hong Kong and Macau to a number of Filipino jobseekers who each paid between $3,000 and $10,000.

They are accused of depositing $127,000 in a Hang Seng Bank account and $510,500 in a HSBC account between 2018 and 2019, the sums being proceeds from an illegal act.

Biscocho is also charged with breaching her condition of stay by working for Ebrahim’s WHT Consulting Company in Kwun Tong between Oct 1, 2018 and Sept 17 last year.

FDHs must test negative before flying to HK, but when and how?

Posted on No comments
By Daisy CL Mandap

Many OFWs are worried about where they should have the Covid-19 test before flying to HK

Two days after announcing that because of a recent surge in imported cases, all foreign domestic workers must test negative in their home countries before being allowed to fly in, Hong Kong has yet to set a date on when this new policy will be implemented.

The announcement has caused concern among those set to fly to Hong Kong soon, as they fear they would be turned away from boarding their flights in Manila because they have no paper to show they had tested negative for Covid-19.

Consul General Raly Tejada says he has already reached out to the Hong Kong government to ask for details on the new policy, but has yet to receive a reply.
“Preliminarily, it seems that it’s more of a health measure rather than a labor issue but for us it’s much than that as it may result in added expenses and delays in deployment of our workers,” he said.

He added it is important to know how the new restriction will be carried out, as “more often than not the devil is in the details.”

Among the questions being asked by Hong Kong-bound Filipino workers is where they could have themselves tested, and when they should do it.

Pindutin para sa detalye

While a group of Hong Kong-based employment agencies has claimed to having their recruits get tested before departing Manila, most workers say they do not know of anyone who could administer the test.

They also ask how recent the result should be, as it takes time for laboratories in the Philippines to process each test result. And, even if they succeed in getting themselves tested, whether the test result will meet Hong Kong’s standards.
ConGen Tejada says they have yet to hear from the HK govt on the details of the new health policy

Congen Tejada says the Consulate has also received queries from anxious workers, and they have been advised to just watch out for their advisories on this.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr. Sophia Chan announced the new policy on Jul 7, shortly after government officials met to review Hong Kong’s anti-virus measures.

Earlier that day, health officials disclosed 14 new infections, nine of them local. Of the imported cases, three involved Filipinas who recently arrived from Manila.

Dr Chan said that apart from requiring FDHs to test negative before flying into Hong Kong, they must also spend their mandatory 14-day quarantine in a "designated place" like a hotel, after entry.

All the expenses for the Covid-19 test and the quarantine accommodation will have to be shouldered by the employer.

She gave no other details.

Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan

The following is a transcript of a media interview on Jul 7 with Secretary for Food and Health Dr. Sophia Chan on why Hong Kong has decided to require all incoming foreign domestic helpers to test negative at their home countries before flying in, and spend their quarantine in hotels:

Reporter: First of all, domestic helpers coming into Hong Kong will be asked to be quarantined at hotels for 14 days. How many hotels have agreed to this as it is summer time, many hotels are offering discount? How has the sector responded to the new decision? Second, air staff and crew ship staff are required to additional testing when they land in Hong Kong. Can you explain a bit more and also why is the burden now being passed onto the countries where they are coming from? The third question, will these new cases, especially with the cases in shipping ports, delay the establishment of the travel bubble and when will we see health code come to light again?

Secretary for Food and Health: The situation is that, first of all, in the recent two weeks, we have cases coming from places, for example, Philippines and Indonesia, are confirmed positive in terms of coronavirus. Another thing is that the flats in Hong Kong are very small. Therefore, in order to let domestic helpers coming to Hong Kong to have effective quarantine, it is important for them to have a place whereby fulfilling the Department of Health's guidelines and requirements. They should have a single room and do not share toilets with others, etc. Therefore, we have discussed that it is important for them to come together to a designated place for quarantine. Hotel will be one of the places that is suitable for this purpose. Secondly, it is also important for the employers to require them to have pre-boarding testing or pre-arrival testing so that we know that they are at least tested negative at the time before they arrive in Hong Kong. Of course, we will continue to test them after they arrive in Hong Kong. That is something that we shall do. 

3 Filipina domestic helpers among 42 new Covid-19 cases in HK

Posted on No comments
By The SUN

Two  of  the infected Filipinas flew in from Manila yesterday, while a third appears to have caught the virus at work 

Three Filipina domestic helpers, two of them newly arrived from Manila, and the third, works for an employer who was earlier found infected, are among 42 new cases reported in Hong Kong today, Jul 9.

Of the new cases, 34 had no recent travel history, sparking fears the coronavirus disease continues to spread across a wide area in Hong Kong. For at least three weeks until last weekend, all the recent infections recorded were imported cases.

Amid the new surge in infections, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Sophia Chan announced the return to tighter restrictions on public gathering.

Starting this Saturday, restaurants will again be limited to operating at 60 of their capacity, and seat just eight people per table, while the cap for bars will be four. Groups visiting gyms, party rooms and karaoke lounges must limit their size to eight.

Restaurants will go back to sitting a maximum of 8 per table from Saturday

According to Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Center for Health Protection, two of the Filipinas who tested positive today flew into Hong Kong yesterday aboard a Hong Kong Airlines flight. One is 42 years old, and the other is 43.

A third Filipina who also tested positive is the domestic helper of a 69-year-old woman who was found infected yesterday, two days after developing a fever. They live together at Hoi Fu Court in Mong Kok.

Pindutin para sa detalye

Meanwhile, the two Filipino seamen who were also found to have Covid-19 yesterday are aged 49 and 56 years old. They flew into Hong Kong from Manila on Jul 5, and since they were exempted from the mandatory 14-day quarantine, went straight to Dorsett Hotel in Tsuen Wan.

They were both tested for the coronavirus disease at Precious Blood Hospital yesterday, just before they were about to board their cargo ship, and were found infected. Both had no symptoms. They are now receiving treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital in Kowloon.

Also among the new imported cases today are two cargo plane pilots and a crew member who recently arrived from Kazakhstan, and a three-month old baby girl whose father tested positive earlier after arriving from Pakistan.

Of the 34 local cases, 23 are related to Kong Tai Care for the Aged home in Tsz Wan Shan, while nine appear related to earlier clusters, notably those from two restaurants, the Bun Kee Congee & Noodle Shop in Ping Shek Estate and the Sun Fat restaurant in Jordan.

The source of two local infections are unknown.

According to Chuang, many of the patients were asymptomatic when they tested positive.

Three of them are taxi drivers, at least one of whom frequented Sun Fat. The cases sparked alarm, and prompted health officials to seek the help of the police and telecommunications companies in hopes of tracing their recent passengers.

Chuang also sent out an appeal to taxi drivers who visited the two restaurants recently to reach out to them. Those who have symptoms should seek treatment immediately, and those without, should ask for specimen bottles from CHP so they can be tested.

Also among today’s cases is the wife of a 71-year-old man who had visited Bun Kee and tested positive yesterday, and a 58-year-old female who does not go to work but frequently takes taxis.

The Hospital Authority reported that there are currently 149 confirmed patients being treated in eight public hospitals, two of whom are in critical condition, and two in serious condition. This was after nine patients had recovered and were discharged.

Biggest daily tally pushes coronavirus cases in Philippines past 50k

Posted on No comments
By The SUN

(Graphic from CNN Philippines, data from DOH)

A record number of new cases has brought the Philippines’ total number of coronavirus to 50,359, sparking fears of a widening community transmission.

The Department of Health reported 2,539 new cases on Jul 8, the biggest single-day jump since the first coronavirus case was reported in the Philippines at the start of the year.

According to the DOH, 1,992 of the new cases were detected only within the last three days, while 617 were reported late.

Metro Manila still topped all areas in the number of infections, with 883 classified as fresh, and 183 as late cases. Central Visayas came in second with 369 new and 74 fresh cases. The rest of the cases came from all over the country.
The DOH also reported that 202 patients have recovered from the disease, bringing the total number to 12,588. This accounts for around 25% of the total confirmed cases.
But five more patients succumbed to Covid-19, raising the death toll to 1,314.

The recent surge in cases came after community quarantine measures were further loosened and more businesses were allowed to reopen.
But the DOH also said the increase was due to its increased testing capacity and the failure of people to adhere to minimum health standards, like wearing face masks in public.
This has reportedly resulted in a community-wide transmission, with the source of infection becoming more difficult to track.

So far, a total of 797,585 people have been tested in the country.
The Philippines has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, behind Indonesia which has reported over 66,000 cases.
Worldwide, 11.78 million have already been infected, with more than 543,000 succumbing to the disease since it emerged in Wuhan, China late last year.

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Maid settles case vs employer for 8 years for $32k

Posted on 08 July 2020 No comments

By Vir B. Lumicao

A Filipina domestic helper settled for $32,400, half of what she was claiming for long service and other payments from her former employer of eight years,  at the Labour Tribunal today, July 8.

Rubilyn Raymundo said she agreed to accept the amount from  Chu Wing-wai to avoid a protracted trial that presiding officer Chan Lo-yee said could take up to nine months.

Raymundo, who has since found a new employer, was claiming severance pay, arrears in wages, air ticket and travel allowance but did not specify the amount.  She only said after the hearing that she got half of her total claim.

Chu said at the start of the hearing that all he was prepared to offer his former helper was $30,000 and nothing more.

Raymundo, asked by Chan for a background of the dispute, said she had finished four contracts with Chu, but she was fired on Jan 19 this year, eight days after he failed to return from a mandatory vacation to the Philippines.

She said she would have wanted to work further for the employer after her fourth contract. “But I am aware they don’t need me anymore,” the helper said.

Raymudo said she had sent a Whatsapp message to Chu’s wife, as she used to do, to inform her that her arrival would be delayed due to the eruption of Taal Volcano.

But she said Mrs Chu did not reply because the couple was already looking for a new maid. 

She was able to fly back to Hong Kong on Jan 14.

Giving his side of the dispute, Chu explained why he did not renew the helper’s contract: 
“The reason is twofold: in June and December 2019, she notified us that somebody was going to employ her. In December 2018, she strongly asked me to dismiss her. She told me she did not want to work for me anymore.” 

Chu said that last June, Raymudo told him she was going to work in Canada for $10,000 a month. Last October, she told him she was moving to an employer in Discovery Bay. Then, one day, she sent him a message saying she still wanted to work for him. But when he arrived from work that evening, she reportedly told the couple she would take her annual leave from Dec 18 to Jan 11 at her own expense.

Raymundo took that leave but did not return on Jan 11. She did not contact Chu, almost pushing the couple to make a “missing person report” to the police, the employer said. She returned on Jan 14 but did not show up.

Chu said he did not want to go beyond his $30,000 offer.

The presiding officer warned both parties a trial could take six to nine months if they did not settle, and both would be losers.

He told them to discuss a settlement. When they returned to the courtroom, they had agreed on $32,400. 

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