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FDW deployment to HK as normal, but agencies are worried

17 August 2019

By Daisy CL Mandap
Fewer FDWs have been hanging out at Statue Square in Central since the protests began

Some Hong Kong-bound Filipino domestic workers are having second thoughts about coming here because of the continuing clashes between the anti-extradition bill protesters and the police, says an employment agency group.

Fearing that a recruitment slowdown could ensue because of these fears, the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies says it plans to send a delegation to Manila soon to assure Philippine government officials of the safety of the country’s workers here.

However, Antonio Villafuerte, officer-in-charge of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, says that there has been no decline - so far - in the number of Filipino domestic workers arriving in Hong Kong since the protests began more than two months ago.
Villafuerte says the daily post-arrival orientation seminar for newly –arrived Filipino domestic workers is still attended by around 100 participants, and the number even doubled Tuesday, Aug. 13, a day after Polo was closed for a Philippine national holiday.

This was despite the total shutdown of the Hong Kong International Airport on Monday  because of a massive sit-down protest inside the terminal building, and again on Tuesday afternoon after violent clashes between protesters and the police.
Clashes at the airport on Aug 13

Villafuerte says the daily tally for the processing of contracts has also remained steady at around 700, meaning FDWs are renewing their contracts at the usual rate.

But he says the Philippine Consulate and Polo continue to monitor the situation. For example, as of today, Aug. 17, the agencies have already been told to inform their new recruits to meet them outside the airport arrival hall because of new security measures that are in place.
Earlier, on Aug. 8, Polo also met with agency representatives to assess how the deepening unrest was affecting FDWs. During the meeting, Villafuerte said the consensus was that the workers were safe since “nasa bahay lang naman sila.”

But to avoid any untoward incident when the helpers are off on Sunday, when the bigger demonstrations are usually held, he said it was agreed that agencies would ask employers to offer the worker an alternative day-off during the week.
“Puwede silang hindi palabasin ng Linggo, pero dapat may kapalit na day-off,” says Villafuerte.

Echoing the oft-repeated advice from the Consulate, he adds workers should stay away from the protest sites, and avoid wearing clothes in black - the color preferred by protesters- or white, which is associated with rival groups.
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Also as a precautionary measure, all the agencies were advised to keep constant communication with their recruits who are about to arrive in Hong Kong, and to provide them with a HK SIM card and a hotline number that they can call at all times.

Failure to comply with these requirements would mean a two-day suspension for the errant agency, says Villafuerte.

On the other hand, agencies were reportedly assured that there will be no slowdown in the processing of workers’ documents in Manila, despite an earlier statement to this effect by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

“We assured Secretary Bello that our workers here are safe, and we are exerting effort to make sure they remain safe,” says Villafuerte.

However, given the widespread coverage given to the turmoil, recruitment agencies say there appears to be a prevailing sentiment in the Philippines now that working in Hong Kong is no longer safe.

Thomas Chan, chairman of the employment agencies union, says some members have informed him that they have had Filipino workers withdrawing their application to work in Hong Kong, or that fewer applicants are attending their interview sessions in Manila.

This was confirmed separately by an agency staff who said they have Filipino applicants who have backed out because their relatives do not want them to pursue their plan of going to Hong Kong, while some were told to go a safer place like Singapore.

“We are planning to have a meeting with Secretary Bello but (are) still awaiting confirmation,” said Chan.

Despite getting regular updates from Polo on the sentiment in Manila, Chan says his group also wants to see first-hand what concerns Filipinos might have on the situation in Hong Kong.

“We are also planning to send an agency delegation to Manila, (and) if possible, meet with media and government officials there, to assure them of the safety of Filipino workers here in Hong Kong and explain to them the real situation,” said Chan.

While Filipino workers here remain safe, the Philippine government is not taking any chances with its Hong Kong-bound tourists. On Aug. 13, Malacanang issued an advisory telling Filipinos to postpone traveling to Hong Kong if they could.

The warning has resulted in many vacant seats on planes flying in from Manila. On Tuesday, for example, dozens of Filipino tourists stranded at the airport because of the shutdown the previous day were all accommodated on the morning flights back to Manila.

More protests are being planned over the next days in Hong Kong, including a mass gathering at Victoria Park tomorrow, Aug 18. Organizers, the Civil Human Rights Front, had said that protesters would march to Chater Road in Central but this plan was vetoed by the police.

Earlier today, protesters staged flash-mob style demonstrations in several places in Mong Kok, leading to brief stand-offs with the police but no reports of injuries. The protesters managed to block several key roads in the shopping hub, but fled before riot police could arrive.

Simultaneously, an approved march was held from To Kwa Wan to the Whampoa MTR station, and a protest march by teachers in the morning which passed without incident.

At Tamar Park meanwhile, tens of thousands of people braved the intermittent downpour to join a pro-government rally, led by pro-Beijing politicians.

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