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A task too risky

08 November 2016

By Daisy Catherine L. Mandap

When a foreign domestic helper falls to her death from a height, police and employers often say it's suicide.

 Relatives of the worker, on the other hand, almost always suspect foul play.

With Rinalyn Dulluog's unfortunate passing on Aug. 9, however, it now appears some of those deaths may have happened due to some other cause.

Police say Rinalyn fell while cleaning windows.

This is a task long considered as mundane by many, including the helpers themselves, but as Rinalyn's death showed, it is not. Far from it.

It is, in fact, almost criminal to demand that helpers clean windows not secured by grills in high-rise flats, whether from the inside or out.

In Rinalyn's case, she fell 49 floors to her death. Surely, someone ought to take the blame for exposing her to such a hazardous chore.

It was just right that Labor Attache Jalilo de la Torre decided, in the face of Hong Kong labor officials' initial refusal to recognize the danger, to take matters into his own hands.

He decreed that by October 15, all employment contracts for Filipino domestic helpers should have the "Rinalyn exclusion", which provides that  employers should not make the worker clean window exteriors.
The clause was supposed to state, "For safety purposes, cleaning the exterior of windows is not part of the domestic helper's duties."
For all its claims to being a liberal state, Hong Kong, along with many of its people, reacted with alarm to the prohibition, which should have been part of the domestic helpers' contracts in the first place.
Radio talk shows which discussed the proposed ban were flooded with calls from irate employers.
Not a few were indignant because a Philippine official dared impose a requirement on the hiring of its nationals. The argument was that this unilateral act contravened Hong Kong's right to enact its own laws.

Lost in the flood of angry comments were some sound counter-arguments like, the Philippines is a sovereign state that has the obligation to,protect its own citizens.

International laws also provide strict guidelines on how such a high-risk task should be delegated, and Hong Kong was clearly not compliant.

But the bottom line is, local employers can always go hire a maid from some other country if they think the Philippines was being unreasonable when it imposed this exclusion.

At least one employer dared say that she would not have hired a maid who could not be told to clean windows.

"So I'm meant to clean the windows while my maid just sits there to watch?," she asked indignantly.
Luckily, Hong Kong was not swayed by the negative comments, and in the biggest surprise of all, asked to meet with Philippine consulate officials to discuss the issue.

Both sides eventually agreed to hold off implementing Labatt's order while they consulted with affected parties on the draft exclusion. But the message was clear: an exclusion of some sort is in the offing.

Rinalyn did not die in vain, after all.
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