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Filipina in viral window-cleaning photos files landmark case vs employer

26 September 2017

By Daisy CL Mandap 

The Filipina domestic worker pictured cleaning windows from outside a high-rise in Repulse Bay at the height of a typhoon is seeking 13 months’ pay for her alleged illegal sacking.

M.R. Sta. Cruz, 37, filed the landmark claim for the remaining portion of her contract on Aug. 31, citing her employer’s alleged violation of the Hong Kong government’s policy against unsafe window cleaning by foreign domestic workers.

She was terminated on Apr. 29, a few days after a concerned neighbor took pictures of her cleaning the taped-up windows of her employer’s first-floor flat in Grand Garden.

The pictures that were uploaded on Facebook by Elpie Elba, were allegedly taken on Aug. 23, shortly after typhoon signals were lowered from 8 to 3, as Hato, one of the strongest storms to hit Hong Kong in years, was still making its presence felt in the city.

According to the Mission for Migrant Workers’ Edwina Antonio, the Labour Department accepted the claim after being furnished copies of the pictures that garnered more than a thousand likes on Facebook and were shared by dozens of people.

“The officer who took the complaint did not say anything when we said the claim was for M’s salary for the remaining period in her contract,” Antonio said.

On top of the 13 months’ wage claim, Sta. Cruz is also seeking reimbursement for the plane ticket she bought in July this year, after her employers allegedly forced her to take her annual leave while they went on a vacation in the United States.

She is also hoping that the Immigration Department would allow her to process a new work contract after her claims against her employer had been resolved.

Sta. Cruz told The SUN in an earlier interview that her employers told her to clean their windows daily. When she asked if that was allowed, her employers reportedly said that the window-cleaning prohibition did not apply to them as they were still bound by the old contract that did not have this provision.

Sta. Cruz, who is on her first overseas employment, said she and her employer signed the old green-colored contract in August last year, but she arrived in Hong Kong to start working for his family on Oct 15.

The new blue contracts that were issued starting Jan. 1 this year contain a provision that stipulates that, “when an employer requires the helper to clean the outside of any window which is not located on the ground level or adjacent to a balcony (on which it must be reasonably safe for the helper to work) or common corridor, this must be performed under the following conditions:

(i) the window being cleaned is fitted with a grille which is locked or secured in a manner that prevents the grille from being opened; and

(ii) no part of the helper’s body extends beyond the window ledge except the arms.”

The prohibition was imposed in the wake of debates sparked by Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre’s unilateral decision to require employers of Filipino domestic workers to sign an undertaking not to order their helpers to clean windows from the outside.

He took the move shortly after Filipina helper Rinalyn Dulluog fell while cleaning the windows of her employer’s flat in a high-rise on Lohas Park on Aug. 9 last year

Earlier, Sta. Cruz also got the Philippine Overseas Labor Office to put her employer on its blacklist for willfully violating their employment contract.

With help from the Mission and POLO, she also filed a claim for subsistence allowance from her insurers in the Philippines while she pursues her case in Hong Kong. Under the terms of the insurance, she could claim US$100 for every month that she is involved in litigation, for a maximum period of six months.

According to Sta. Cruz, her employers kept prodding her to write a termination letter after she questioned them about her window cleaning. She was reportedly told that if she was unhappy working for them she could leave, but she did not budge.

In retaliation, she was given a termination letter and told to leave the house shortly after midnight on Aug. 29. She was given her unpaid salary, a month’s pay in lieu of notice, and air ticket.
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