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Migrant workers say they bear brunt of HK employers’ paranoia over virus

21 February 2020

By The SUN

A Filipina sends money home wearing a  raincoat on orders of her employer
Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong have been sharing stories online about how they have been treated with scorn by their employers, as if they were the ones who caused the spread of the novel coronavirus or Covid-19 in the city, or the ones most likely to spread it around.

The discriminatory treatment appears to have intensified after a Filipina domestic worker was reported as having tested positive for the virus on Feb. 18. Lost in the blame game was the fact that the helper was infected by her 67-year-old employer, and not by fellow Filipinos.

The worst case so far appears to be that of J.A., who sought help online after running a fever on Feb. 10, a day after she insisted on taking  short day off to her employer’s displeasure.

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J.A. told townmates that she had been locked in a room and was fed only rice for two days, the reason why she felt weak and her fever had not subsided. Her employer had apparently suspected that she somehow got the virus from her fellow migrant workers although she was gone for only a few hours.

Her case was relayed to Philippine Overseas Labour Office head Antonio Villafuerte, who immediately asked J.A.’s agency to check on her. The next day her employer was told to give her adequate food, and J.A. said she felt much better. However, she said her employer told her to start doing light work even if she still had slight fever.

Many of the helpers are kept mostly at home, so they could only share their stories on social media, the only easily accessible platform for them to air the unjust stereotyping and discrimination they suffer in their workplaces.
Migrant support groups decry the discrimination that arose from the Covid-19 spread

Migrant workers groups have been up in arms over the situation, and have repeatedly pointed out that the illness was brought to Hong Kong by infected travelers from the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Based on statistics, they say the chances of Filipino helpers passing on the virus to each other is insignificant compared to them getting it from their employers’ home.
Of the 68 patients who tested positive for Covid-19 in Hong Kong, only one was Filipino, a maid with no travel history during the 14-day incubation period who takes care of her elderly female employer who caught the virus during a dinner with relatives. 

Despite this, many helpers say they have been treated by their employers with disdain, especially after spending their rest day meeting with relatives and friends, attend to personal business, or even just to have a whiff of fresh air.

The hysteria was compounded by an appeal by the Labour Department to foreign helpers to stay at home on their rest day as a precaution to the spread of Covid-19 in the community.
Filipinos cram the Philippine Consulate on a Sunday for official transactions 
On Feb 2, a Filipina helper in Yuen Long who took her day off to send money to her family was met outside the door by her irate employer who ordered her to wash her entire body with a disinfectant solution and dump her clothes.

She was then told to take a shower and, again, to disinfect herself before going to her room. As a result, the traumatized maid said in a post on the Facebook group DWC Help Group that she wanted to break her contract.

Another maid, Thess Mari, said in a post to DWC on Feb 20 that since the Covid-19 outbreak in Hong Kong, her employers had barred her from touching their food, to the extent that she had to use chopsticks to wash rice for cooking and wear a mask while eating.

She said they treated her as if she had the dreaded infection. Worse, the employers cooked food for themselves and left her with just a little to eat. When she complained, the female employer allegedly scolded her, telling her she was being paid to work.

What upset her more was how family members would tell her to step aside when they passed by, so she had to sit in a corner for most of the day. Unable to bear the maltreatment, she prepared a resignation letter.
Many helpers say they're being treated as if they brought the virus into Hong Kong

Another maid, J. M., said in a post that she had been allowed to go home by her employers to attend to her child’s problem. But then the employers changed their mind on Feb 20 out of fear that she might bring back the virus from the Philippines.

When they gave permission the first time, the employers also told her that when she returns to Hong Kong, she would be quarantined, supposedly to protect their family against infection. Many of the Filipina’s friends egged her on to point out that all the three infected cases in the Philippines, including one who died, were all Chinese tourists.

In a bizarre show of the locals’ misimpression that the helpers are agents of the disease, a Filipina maid went to a remittance shop in City Garden, North Point on Feb 20 wearing a raincoat apart from a mask, which many locals see as necessary protection against the virus.

She said her employer was afraid that she would catch the virus and bring it home. 

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