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Employers group urges members not to fire stranded helpers

07 February 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

Thousands of stranded OFWs applying for Php10k financial aid from OWWA

The leader of an employers’ group has reportedly called on her members not to fire their domestic workers who are stranded in the Philippines due to a travel ban imposed on Feb. 2, ostensibly to stem the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.

Assistant Labor Attaché Tony Villafuerte said Hong Kong Employers of Domestic Helpers Association chairperson Betty Yung Ma Sha-yee called him up to say she had explained the workers’ situation to employers.

“Tumawag po sa akin ang chairperson ng HK employers association at sinabi niya na pinakiusapan ang employers na huwag naman basta-bastang mag terminate and to explain the present situation,” the officer-in-charge of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office said.

At the same time, he warned against relying too much on the call. “Alam po natin na hindi nila kontrolado ang pag-iisip ng lahat ng employer,” he said.

Already, several Filipina domestic helpers stranded in the Philippines have been posting concerns about them being fired by their employers. Not a few said their employers did not believe that they were being stopped by their own government from leaving.

Some have even sent queries about having their employers blacklisted in case they were fired for not being able to take up their jobs as scheduled.

Dianarose O. sent a message to The SUN, saying, “Isa po ako sa na cancel ang flight noong Feb 2. Nasa Pilipinas ako ngayon at nangangamba na baka i-terminate ako kaya gusto ko sana sila ipa watchlist.”

Another, Jean M., said “Flight ko supposedly ngayon pabalik ng Hong Kong pero cancelled. Ang problema is, si amo hindi nya daw ako maantay, so labas ko terminate.”

“What to do in case i-terminate nya ako if hindi pa ako makabalik ng March 1? Pwede ko ba siya ipa watchlist sa Polo para hindi ma approve yung bagong contract in case i-terminate ako?”

To these queries, Villafuerte says the best thing to do is to appeal to one’s employer not to resort to termination. There is not much that one can do, given that Hong Kong law allows contract termination for as long as the worker is properly compensated.

“Just come to us if you need help talking to your employers,” he said. But if termination does occur, he said Polo could help the worker seek proper compensation from the employer.

Filipino migrant workers were stranded in both HK and the Phl because of the travel ban

The travel ban which took immediate effect on Feb 2 barred Filipinos from departing for China, Hong Kong and Macau. The ban also ordered Filipino travelers arriving from the three places, including vacationing OFWs, to be quarantined for 14 days.

The ban was later expanded to cover Taiwan. A spokesman for the government said this was because the Philippines had a one-China policy, meaning it considered Taiwan part of the mainland.

The sudden ban left tens of thousands of Filipinos stranded in international airports across the Philippines, mostly OFWs due to work abroad for the first time, or were on home leave.

Hong Kong has tried to intercede by asking the Philippine government to reconsider the ban and allow foreign domestic workers and residents to return to the city, but has yet to receive a reply.

It has also announced that all expiring contracts until Mar 31 can be extended up to May 31, as long as both the employer and the worker agree, as a stop-gap measure to address the problem with replacement helpers failing to leave the Philippines.

ALA Villafuerte said homebound workers who are stranded in Hong Kong and whose work visa is about to expire can go to the Immigration Department to apply for an extension.

He said Immigration had promised to be “reasonable” when considering the application, and could waive the visa fee for those applying for short-term extensions of between two and three days.

However, one terminated employer whose flight was cancelled on Feb 6 said she was charged a visa extension fee when she went to Immigration straight from the airport, as she had only until that day to remain in Hong Kong.

Said her friend, Cyndie B: “Kawawa naman ang friend ko, na –terminate na nga, ngayon pababayarin pa para sa visa. Wala na ngang pera. Di sana, pinaalis na lang. Ay grabe, payag pala ang Immigration pero may bayad din pala. Nakakalungkot naman.”

Home-bound Filipinos whose flights are cancelled are advised to ask a refund of their air fare. Most, if not all, the airlines have promised full refund to affected passengers.

As of now, only Hong Kong Airlines regularly flies this route. All the major airlines, Philippine Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Cebu Pacific, have announced they will resume flights to and from Manila only on Mar 28.

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