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HK Immigration clamps down on absentee FDWs

01 March 2019

Hong Kong airport.

By Daisy CL Mandap

Immigration authorities in Hong Kong have moved to stop the practice of some local employers of bringing their domestic workers with them when they go abroad, often for extended periods of time.

Recent reports indicate Filipino domestic workers who had returned to Hong Kong after being away for sometime have been warned against the practice by Immigration officers.

Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre welcomed the news, saying it bodes well for Filipino domestic workers who are often brought across the border with China by their Hong Kong employers.

“That’s  a good move by Immigration Department, because many employers with multiple residences are using the employment contract for Hong Kong as an excuse for bringing our nationals over when the actual intention is to make them work in China,” he said.

“It is risky for our domestic workers to be frequently brought across the border because they lose their legal protections and medical and welfare benefits when outside Hong Kong.”

However, those who have reported being questioned by Immigration are Filipino helpers who were brought to places other than China.

One, a Filipino driver hired by an American businessman married to a Filipina, said that on arrival in Hong Kong two weeks ago he was asked extensively why he had been in the Philippines for months. He was told he could not stay away from Hong Kong for more than six months in total each year.

“Sinabi ko na yun sa employer ko, na kailangan na kaming bumalik sa Hong Kong. Mas gusto ko naman diyan kasi ang hirap mag-drive sa Pilipinas dahil sa traffic,” he said.

He also confided that he was paid less than Hong Kong’s minimum allowable wage while in the Philippines, with the employer arguing that he was spending  much less while there.

“Babalik na lang ako sa Hong Kong at marami namang gustong magpirma sa akin dyan,” he said.

Another,  a Filipina domestic worker who travelled extensively with her employer in the United States and other Asian countries, was also warned when she applied to extend her contract in January, that she could not stay away for months on end.

Her employer was also made to sign an undertaking that she was not to take her maid out of Hong Kong for longer than a total of six months each year.

The Filipina helper, in contrast, was not happy about being stopped from accompanying her employer on her frequent travels abroad. She was at least paid her Hong Kong salary, and was allowed to venture out and explore the foreign places they visit.

It appears the new immigration policy does not apply to those crossing the border. A Filipina helper who is in China more often than in Hong Kong, says her employer was only made to sign an undertaking that she would only work at the residential address indicated in their declaration.

The helper returned to Hong Kong only last month. “Let’s see if I get warned when I return from China next month,” she said.

Eman Villanueva, chair of the Filipino Migrant Workers Union, said Immigration’s move was welcome. However the Hong Kong government must ensure that the foreign domestic workers are assured of adequate protection while away.

“In European countries like Swizerland, the labor laws are stricter so that all workers, whether local or foreign, must work for only a fixed period,” he said. Salaries are also far higher than in Hong Kong.

If the laws are to be followed strictly, he said migrant workers must be paid the salary stipulated by the country where they are taken, and allowed to enjoy the same rights given to workers there.

He said the plight of Filipina Lorain Asuncion, whose relatives were left without recourse after she died in the house of her employer’s father in Shenzhen, highlighted the need to ensure all migrant workers are well-protected, more so if they are made to work outside Hong Kong. 

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