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Filipina DH files $27k claim after fleeing 'abusive' employer

15 September 2021

By Vir B. Lumicao 

A note kept by Teruel shows how much was deducted from her salary in just 2 days

For more than two years, a Filipina domestic worker put up with being asked by her female employer to pay money for each supposed mistake that she made, such as “forget asking the soup”, “not putting back the chair,”  “no schedule to work” or even "forgetting to say “yes ma’am”.

The penalty used to be just $10 or $20 for each supposed infraction, but recently it rose to either $100 or $200, depending on the mood or the whim of the employer. A record Jessa Teruel keeps shows "no cleaning door dusty" and "not asking" each incurred a $100 deduction. 

But the biggest cut in her salary was for "toys clean in the toilet instead in the kitchen", which supposedly happened 15 times, resulting in a $1,500 charge. 

So, on Sept 13, when the employer’s wife told her about raising the penalty the next day to $500, Teruel, 33, was sleepless. She worried that when the higher penalty came into force, she’d no longer be able to send money home.

"Natiis ko ang lahat ng ginagawa niya sa akin, pero nag-decide na akong bumaba nang sabihin ng amo ko kagabi na simula ngayong araw ay $500 na ang punishment ko kada may mali,” Teruel said on the day of her escape. (I endured all she had been doing to me, but I decided to leave after my employer told me last night that from today, my punishment for each mistake I make will be $500.)

The 'penalties' imposed by Teruel's employer were relatively smaller in July but still illegal

To prevent being reported to the police, Teruel left a resignation letter, and payment for $4,630 as one month’s salary in lieu of notice, then left her employer's house in Sham Tseng, Tsuen Wan.

Teruel said she also endured verbal abuse, physical assault and mental torment by her female employer. Worse, she was allegedly stopped from taking a day off since January last year and, recently, in the few times she was allowed a day off, she was still required to work.

On Monday, the helper filed a $27,000 claim at the Labour Department against her employer after seeking help from the migrant support group Mission for Migrant Workers and being advised about her rights.

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The claim included a recovery of the salary in lieu of notice that she paid, after learning that because of her employer’s repeated contract violations such as illegal deduction of wages and refusal to give her a day-off, she should have invoked constructive dismissal. 

This means, it is the employer who should have paid a month's salary in lieu instead of the other way around.

Previously, Teruel had complained to the Facebook group Domestic Workers Corner about the daily torment that she faced, including being repeatedly warned about being arrested due to her baby ward’s falling off the bed early in her employment.


“Aksidente naman po iyon, paano ko mababantayan lagi e kung anu-ano ang ipinagagawa sa akin,”Teruel said.  (It was accidental. How could I watch the baby all the time when she orders me to do a lot of things.)

After writing her resignation letter she sent a help message to supporters, who directed her to the Mission.

At around 8am Monday, the skinny and diminutive helper, wearing a black cotton T-shirt, a matching pair of black jogging pants and grey beach sandals, made her breakaway.


All she carried was a canvas bag containing her passport, old contract, wallet and a notebook on which she noted all the illegal salary deductions her female employer had allegedly made in the three years that she had worked for them.

The helper said things were not that bad when she first came to Hong Kong in June 2019 to serve the Lai couple and their two children, now aged 3 and 6. She recalled that, at first, she could take her day off from 9am to 5pm, then do house chores upon returning.

But from January last year, she was no longer allowed to get out of the house, reportedly due to the contagion. This upset her, especially since her employers still went out frequently with their children to malls and parks.

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From then on, she could go downstairs only if she was sent for an errand, such as picking up a meal from a restaurant or buying some stuff, but was told not to talk to other helpers.

On Sunday evening, the employer reportedly berated her in front of visiting relatives and friends who she invited for dinner, something she had done quite frequently in the past. Whenever the employer was in a particularly bad mood, she would reportedly knock the helper's head, pull her hair, or twist her ear along with the scolding.

Recently, after the helper found courage to remind the employer about her delayed salary, the woman flared up and they argued. Teruel said she gave a month’s notice on the spot but the employer said she needed to pay a month’s salary in lieu of notice.

But apparently alarmed, the employer sought to appease Teruel by paying her salary and an envelope containing all the money she had collected as penalty. But along with this, she warned about raising future penalties to $500 each time.

While the helper was at the Mission, the employer’s wife called her several times, but she ignored the calls. Staff from the agency that deployed her also called with no success.

The employer sent messages urging Teruel to come back and take her clothes. She said no one was angry at her. She invited the helper to discuss settlement and get her payment and plane ticket. But the woman also threatened to report to the police.

At the time, Teruel was already on her way to the Labour Relations Division to file the claim against the employer.

In her confusion, Teruel forgot that she was at the LRD to complain about the abuses of her employer and declare that her leaving was a constructive dismissal. They recomputed her claim and advised her to back up her charges with evidence.

The Labour officers who attended to her came up with the $27,000-plus claim amount after they computed all the days she said she was not allowed to take her day off, her unused annual leave, arrears in wages and a return of the $4,630 she paid the employer.

They set a conciliation meeting between the two parties on Oct 4.

Rosareal's 'notebook of penalties' appears to have inspired Teruel's employer

Teruel's case brings to mind a similar ordeal by Lanie Grace Rosareal, who went without a salary for six months in 2017  because of the "penalties" that her employer's partner imposed on her for each imagined mistake, such as "not taking thread from underwear" or other such nonsense.

On Nov 4 her employer, Leung Shet-ying was fined $33,000 and ordered to do 160 hours of community service for failing to pay wages on time and ordering the helper to do illegal work. Leung was also ordered to pay Rosareal $39,617 in compensation.

Subsequently, Rosareal agreed to settle her labour claim against Leung for an undisclosed sum. The helper had sought to claim more than $200,00 in unpaid wages, one month's salary in lieu of notice, return air ticket and moral damages.

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