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‘Spiderwoman’ wins case, leaves HK

30 November 2017

By Daisy CL Mandap

Marycor Sta. Cruz
Hong Kong’s own “Spiderwoman” has returned home, happy to have won her compensation claim against her former employer who made her clean windows from the outside, while a super typhoon was about to make landfall in the city. Marycor Sta. Cruz, 37, flew home to San Manuel, Pangasinan on Nov. 28, a few days after accepting $30,000 as settlement for all her claims against her employer who lives in posh Grand Garden in Repulse Bay.

Sta. Cruz became known as “Spiderwoman” among members of the Filipino community in Hong Kong after pictures of her clinging precariously to a wall while cleaning the windows of her employer’s flat from the outside went viral on Facebook. The pictures were taken by concerned neighbors on Aug. 22, while signal no. 3 was in force ahead of an expected direct hit from super typhoon Hato.

At about midnight exactly a week after her photos went viral, Sta. Cruz was fired by her employer. She was paid her salary, a month’s pay in lieu of notice, and her return air fare.

But the employer refused to pay for her annual leave, charging it to a forced vacation he made the helper take while his family went for a vacation in the United States. The employer also declined to abide by an earlier agreement to pay for the air fare incurred by Sta. Cruz for the forced vacation.

With help from the Mission for Migrant Workers, Sta. Cruz filed a claim with the Labor Department for compensation against her employer totaling $54,000. She also had her employer put on the watch list of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office.

The picture that went viral.
The helper and her employer failed to reach agreement during conciliation at the Labour Department, so their case was referred to the Labour Tribunal for settlement.

Mission’s case officer Edwina Antonio told The SUN Sta. Cruz agreed to a reduced claim because she had been too tired and stressed from nearly two months of worrying about her case.

The employer reportedly made Sta. Cruz sign a non-disclosure agreement about the settlement, but Antonio said this should not be binding, as evidence to back up the helper’s claim, including photos of her window-cleaning, had already been forwarded to Immigration.

Apart from the window cleaning, the employer allegedly committed other contract violations, like confiscating the helper’s passport, making her sleep only four hours a day and feeding her leftovers. The employer also reportedly monitored the helper’s every movement through CCTVs installed throughout his flat.

In an earlier interview, Sta. Cruz told The SUN that her employer had prodded her to write a termination letter as she seemed unhappy working for them, but she did not budge. In retaliation, she was given a termination letter and told to leave the house in the wee hours.

Before this, Sta. Cruz said she raised the issue about window cleaning after concerned friends and neighbors told her this was illegal in Hong Kong. However, her employer reportedly scoffed at this, saying their contract did not include this restriction.

Sta. Cruz, who is married with three kids and was on her first overseas employment, said she and her employer signed the contract in August last year, but she arrived in Hong Kong to start working for his family on October 15.

That time the Hong Kong government had already confirmed plans to ban the cleaning of outside parts of windows but the restriction was added to the standard employment comtracts of foreign domestic workers only on Jan. 1 this year.

Despite the adoption of the new policy, Sta. Cruz’s employer made her clean their windows thoroughly on a daily basis during the entire 10 months of her stay with them.

The order was enforced even with the approach of Typhoon Hato, which explained why the windows which dela Cruz was seen cleaning in the viral photos were all taped up.

Recalling that time, Sta. Cruz said, “Ang dulas nga noon kasi maulan.”

But even after being told that what her employers were making her do was illegal, Dela Cruz did not take heed. She said she wanted to hold on to her job because she needed money to help her husband provide for their three kids back in Pangasinan.

“Unang kontrata ko pa lang at ayaw kong magka bad record kasi gusto kong makalipat sa ibang bansa, “ said dela Cruz, who holds a degree in computer science.

But, apparently hounded by the viral photos of their helper clearly being made to do something illegal, her employer chose to terminate the contract himself.

It was a blessing in disguise for Sta. Cruz who, after being cared for by the Mission, learned about her rights, and regained her voice.

Told by a labour officer that she had been “silly” for complaining about the window cleaning, she reportedly said: “Would you have said the same thing, sir, if I died from doing it?”

On the day she was about to fly home, Sta. Cruz told The SUN she was happy that she was able to fight for her rights. She was also looking forward to being reunited with her family in time for Christmas.

But reality bites. Soon, she said she would have to leave home again to find work, though hopefully, it would be with kindler and gentler employers.

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