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Legislator gets flak for complaining about 'exorbitant' cost of hiring FDWs

28 November 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap 


Ip used the legislators' Q&A with the CE (below) to raise her concerns on FDW issues

Legislative Councillor  Regina Ip has come under fire for wading into the fractious issue of employment agencies squeezing money from their Filipino recruits by forcing them to undergo training, which she said would result in employers being made to pay more to hire domestic workers.

Ip used the legislators’ question and answer session with Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Thursday to complain that the training fee issue has become a “middle class concern” as it could burden many families that hire helpers from the Philippines.

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“Hiring domestic helpers is getting more costly,” said Ip, who was infamously targeted in a massive anti-racism rally in April 2015 after she suggested in an article that the Hong Kong government was allowing Filipina domestic workers to bed their expatriate bosses.

Ip suggested that Labour Secretary Law Chi-kwong step in to help ease the burden on employers, and that the government should “lobby to get the price reduced.”

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She asked what could happen if, after paying the “exorbitant fee” to get a Filipina to come over, the helper would quit after three months. In this case, she said the employer should be allowed to forgo paying for the domestic worker’s repatriation to the Philippines.

The Mission for Migrant Workers immediately took issue with Ip’s remarks, saying it suggested the workers were using the pandemic for their self-interest.

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“This is utterly unfair, prejudicial and bordering on malicious as the statement creates unwanted tension between employers and their domestic workers,” said the Mission in a press statement.

The non-government organization said there were many reasons why a worker would choose to resign within the first few months of employment, more so migrant workers who often face abuse from their employers, or need to attend to emergencies back home.

Ip with Filcom leaders in 2015, after apologizing for her remarks seen to denigrate Filipina DHs

In reality, said the Mission, scores of workers seek their help because they were being abused or unfairly treated by their employers but were reluctant to leave because they have to pay bills back home, as well as the exorbitant fees charged them by their employment agencies.

"And with the two-week rule of the HK government, only those domestic workers who resign due to grave violations of the employment contract (which they still have to prove) MAY have the chance to change to another employer without going back home first and undergoing another round of placement payments,” said the Mission.

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CE Lam responded to Ips' remarks by saying “We cannot allow too many FDHs to come here...,” suggesting that immigration’s decision to allow migrant workers to remain in Hong Kong even after being terminated was a matter of striking a balance during the time of the pandemic.

But she said Hong Kong “would certainly” take up Ip’s concern with Philippine authorities.

Asked to respond to Mrs Lam’s comment, Consul General Raly Tejada said, “We welcome this query and would reply accordingly.”

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The training fee issue that unsettled recruiters both in the Philippines and Hong Kong came up in June this year when the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said in an opinion that the agencies should not require OFWs to undergo training.

 Filcom leader Marites Palma (kneeling) helped OFWs file claims vs their recruiters

POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia said in his letter-reply to agency leader Fred Palmiery that if the employer requires the worker to undergo training despite having a national certificate of skills proficiency (NCII), then the employer or the agency should pay for the cost.

Labour Attache Mel Dizon stoked the flames further when he said during a meeting with a group of Filipino community leaders last week that the recruiters should not charge training fees from the workers that they deploy.

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Dizon also replied in the affirmative when asked if the workers who were made to pay training fees could ask for a refund from their agencies.

This prompted a group of Hong Kong-based agencies to seek a dialogue with Dizon, during which the labor chief reportedly assured them it was not illegal for them to collect fees if the worker voluntarily agreed to undergo training.

Despite the apparent attempt to defuse the issue, around 30 OFWs trooped to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office on Sunday, to ask for a refund from their agencies, with claims ranging from Php30,000 to Php45,000. More OFWs are expected to file similar claims in the coming Sundays.

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