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Number of OFWs in HK drop by 2k, as Phl labor chief says mass sackings is 'fake news'

04 March 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

Thousands of OFWs stranded in the Philippines because of the travel ban to HK, Macau and China

There’s been a massive drop of more than 2,000 in the number of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong over the past month, likely as a result of sackings  and a travel ban imposed by the Philippine government.

Figures from Hong Kong Immigration show that by the end of February, there were a total of 217,654 Filipino domestic workers in the city, compared with 219,728 in January, or a drop of 2,074.

Up until this time, the number has consistently gone up, even at the height of the raucous anti-government protests in the second half of 2019.

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It’s unclear how much of the decline can be attributed to the outbound ban on all Filipinos leaving for Hong Kong, which lasted for 16 days, from Feb 2 to 18. Not a few OFWs had appealed online for the ban to be lifted, saying their employers would terminate their contracts if they failed to return as expected.

But job cuts due to the employer’s relocation, unemployment, or any other reasons attributable to the spread of the novel coronavirus, are likely a major factor.

A check with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration which keeps track of job cuts reported to the Philippine Overseas Employment showed that 30 terminations had been recorded within just a few days in early February.


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Migrant support groups like the Mission for Migrant Workers and the Domestic Workers Corner both report an average of two terminations each day as a result of the contagion.

A report on the sackings appears to have irked Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr that he tweeted on Wednesday, Mar. 4, about an immediate repatriation of Filipino workers in the SAR.
 
Locsin's tweet in which he said OFWs in HK would be repatriated 'pronto'
Locsin was reacting angrily to a report in the South China Morning Post on Mar 3 that said Hong Kong employers have fired dozens of Filipino helpers amid the Covid-19 scare.

“We’ll prepare for their repatriation. Pronto. Deeply disgusted with HK which begged us to let domestic workers return to work,” Locsin tweeted.

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But in a subsequent press briefing in Manila, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III dismissed the report offhand as “fake news”.

“Fake news yan, e, it’s not true,” said Bello. “We are not losing workers overseas. Wala naman, except for some requests for repatriation. Wala namang ganoon na loss of work, especially if you are talking of Hong Kong, Japan, Macau or even Taiwan.”

Later, he said the sackings were only “isolated cases” and were not happening at an alarming rate.

But as he spoke, a Filipina worker in Yuen Long posted on Facebook that she had just been fired.



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On Tuesday afternoon, another Filipina helper in Tseung Kwan O frantically begged online for a suitcase donor, saying she had been fired on the spot by her employer.

Bello also answered in the negative when asked if he was coordinating with Hong Kong authorities on how to help or extend assistance to the isolated dismissal cases. 

“Actually, we don’t really need to coordinate with the Hong Kong authorities because  have our own system of assisting our overseas workers,” he said.

He said in some incidents of Filipino workers losing their jobs, their employers are not permanent residents of Hong  Kong who are relocating, so they have to dismiss their workers.

'Fake news,' says Bello on the reported sackings in HK (screen grab from CNN Phl)
Bello added that in fact, Filipino domestic workers have become “very indispensable in Hong Kong. This was triggered in the days of the anti-government protests. So, we are not alarmed by the employment loss to our overseas workers in Hong Kong.”

The labor secretary said that if the situation calls for it, the government can extend help throuh its livelihood assistance and reintegration programs for returning OFWs.

He said that in preparation for any eventuality, his office has created an anti-coronavirus crisis committee headed by Undersecretary Ana Dione with Assistant Secretary Alex Avila, Asec Nikki Tutay and Asec Ma. Teresita Cucueco as members.

HK Immigration figures show that from 216,052 last June, the Filipino helper population grew steadily and peaked at 219,915 at end-November then fell to 219,073 at end-December.

The number rebounded to 219,728 as of Jan 31 this year, when the virus scare began in Hong Kong, and dropped to 217,654 as of Feb 29.  

Filipino DH population, June 2019-Feb 2020

As at the end of Month/Year
Philippines
Jun-19
216 052
Jul-19
216 375
Aug-19
217 961
Sep-19
218 883
Oct-19
219 496
Nov-19
219 915
Dec-19
219 073
Jan-20
219 728
Feb-20
217 654

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