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Know your rights: Peace through service

28 March 2016


By Cynthia Tellez

On March 6, the Mission celebrated its 35th anniversary by offering the song “Let There Be Peace On Earth” at the Cathedral Service. I thought of sharing this because one line in the song says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me”.
We in the Mission hope that we can always extend the peace that is meant to be. We hope that migrants can have that relative peace because the Mission extended its assistance to them in their times of need. It is very heartening to know that “peace of mind” was one of the major answers of beneficiaries interviewed during our evaluation process last year on the impacts of our services.
That day, also happened to be a “Mothering Sunday” and, not to mention, the first week of the women’s month. Coincidentally , migrant women approached the Mission that day and confided problems and situations that are very particular to women.
One inquired about relevant policies on pregnancy of migrants; a mother and a child abandoned by a foreign father, and a related case of a wife left by her husband for another woman, and; a mother who chose to overstay because she has to support her children’s needs.
The following illustrate the different situations and problems of migrant women and I wish to deal with these problems one by one:
1)  Mary (not her real name), a domestic worker who is employed only for a month and a few days, found out that she is pregnant. Is she entitled to maternity protection? It is important to know the provisions on Maternity Protection in the Hong Kong Employment Ordinance Cap. 57 (or labor law) and what can a woman in such condition do.
We advised her that the first thing to do is to see a doctor and get a certification that she is indeed pregnant. This should prevent an employer from terminating the contract for the reason that she is pregnant.
Second question is: is she entitled to Maternity Leave?  YES.
But is she entitled to Maternity Leave Pay? Unfortunately, NO. According to rules, the worker must be employed under a continuous contract of not less that 40 weeks (about 10 months) by the time she gives birth in order to avail of the maternity leave pay which is 4/5 of the regular salary of the migrant worker.
In Mary’s case, she has been employed for only one month, and was found to be pregnant for more than a month. By the time she gives birth, she would have been working for only nine months, disqualifying her from maternity leave pay though she is still entitled to a leave of 10 weeks.
2) The second case we received involved men who abandoned their family (wife and children). It should be noted that abandoning one's family does not allow a spouse and parent to totally escape from responsibilities, especially toward their minor child or children.
Because of the complexities of the issues involved in this kind of situation, it is difficult to discuss all the compelling points on this matter. Women who encounter this kind of situation are advised to approach service providers in order to assist them in getting the services of a lawyer. There are many entangled issues here – between husband and wife, between father and the children, custody of child or children, financial support to children, and alimony issues. Most of  these can be addressed within the legal frame, thus the need for a lawyer.  This will all the more be complicated if the man is not of the same nationality. If he returns to his country of origin or chose another country of domicile, laws in that country will also apply in this regard, and not only that of the country where they got married. The Mission has networks in several countries that can assist women in this kind of situation.
It is another matter if the husband marries another woman without the benefit of annulment. Off-hand, the husband has committed an offence that is punishable under the law in the Philippines, and in many other countries. It can be that the husband did not declare his real marital status so he could marry his new partner. Again, this is a matter that needs to be discussed in person due to its complexities.
3) Last is the heart-warming case of a mother who was forced to stay beyond her visa when she could not find a job within 14 days after losing the previous one. She is a mother who risked her safety because as a foreign domestic worker, she could not stay beyond 14 days after the premature termination of her employment contract. This made her an “over-stayer”.  This act is punishable under the law, and the prohibition extends to the “good Samaritans“ who harbor or keep an overstayer.
This client is a classic example of mothers who are willing to go through any difficulties for the sake of the family. This is typical in many circumstances among migrant workers giving unconditional love and care, which is what mothering is all about. They are women, migrant mothers, who come to us and to whom we, at the Mission, offer our services.
Though what we can only do is to give guidance on what best steps to take before even falling into the trap of committing further violations wittingly or unwittingly – because the ultimate decision of what action to take depends on the individual. We can only try our best to provide direction and give clear suggestions.

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This is the monthly column from the Mission for Migrant Workers, an institution that has been serving the needs of migrant workers in Hong Kong for over 31 years. The Mission, headed by its general manager, Cynthia Tellez, assists migrant workers who are in distress, and  focuses its efforts on crisis intervention and prevention through migrant empowerment. Mission has its offices at St John’s Cathedral on Garden Road, Central, and may be reached through tel. no. 2522 8264.

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