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Up to 15k OFWs stranded in PH start trickling into HK

03 June 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

Most HK-bound OFWs are unable to fly out because there are still no domestic flights in the Philippines

Filipino domestic workers have started arriving in Hong Kong in trickles after the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration started processing contracts and overseas employment certificates (OECs) again.

According to Alfredo Palmiery, president of the Society of Hong Kong Accredited Recruiters in the Philippines (Sharp), POEA started accepting 10 contracts per agency per day since May 18.

He said his own agency, Concorde International, has managed to release 39 OECs for Hong Kong-bound workers, and four have already been deployed.

Palmiery's Hong Kong counterpart, Fair Employment Agency, is one of the biggest players in the recruitment industry in the city.

But these are just a tiny fraction of the number of Hong Kong–bound domestic workers who have been stranded in the Philippines because of travel restrictions in both territories starting in February.

Palmiery said, “In my estimate, about 15,000 (workers) are in the pipeline – 5,000 agency hires and 10,000 balik-manggagawa (returning FDWs).”

The number includes those already contracted by employers but are still waiting for visa approvals in Hong Kong, he added.

His estimate could be a bit on the high side, however, as Hong Kong Immigration figures show a drop of only about 7,000 in the Filipino domestic workers population between February and May this year.

Even adding the progressive increase in their numbers year-on-year during normal times, the number could be closer to 10,000 – which, however, is still considerable.

Palmiery (in black jacket) estimates 15,000 OFWs bound for HK are stranded in the Philippines

Palmiery said many more are still waiting for the chance to depart for Hong Kong.

“Others are just renewing their expired medicals (clearances). Some could not depart because there are no available flights or transportation from the provinces,” he said.

The latter could be the bigger reason for the failure of most Hong Kong – bound OFWs to take up, or resume their jobs.

Much of the Philippines, in particular, Metro Manila, where the only operational international airport is located, has been under strict lockdown for the past 11 weeks.

Starting Jun 1, the metropolis been put under a more relaxed community quarantine, but domestic flights are still not being allowed, reportedly because of resistance from local government units, which fear the spread of the coronavirus.

Another big stumbling block is the mandatory 14-day quarantine imposed on those arriving in Hong Kong from overseas.

According to some Hong Kong employment agencies, many employers are hesitant to take newly arrived domestic workers into their homes, even if they tested negative on arrival at the airport.

If they choose to put them in hotel or a quarantine facility, employers could face considerable cost as Hong Kong labor laws require them to pay for the worker’s accommodation and food.

But even if employers are desperate enough to agree to the added costs, many agencies say there are still only a few OFWs  able to fly into Hong Kong from Manila.

One reason is the apparent inability of the POEA to return to full operations despite Metro Manila’s move to the less restrictive general community quarantine (GCQ).

In an advisory dated Jun 1, POEA said that despite the relaxation of distancing rules, its offices in Metro Manila will continue to work at reduced capacity “until such time that the 50% manpower complement required under GCQ set-up is achieved.

This is despite an announcement from the Department of Labor and Employment that it was stepping up its Balik Abroad program for stranded OFWs, along with its Hatid OFW program for those who were on their way back home after losing their jobs abroad.

In line with the Dole move, the Labor Attache in Hong Kong, Melchor Dizon, announced on May 26 that his office would start processing all work contracts again, including those for terminated OFWs whose visas have been extended by Immigration.

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