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New Year wishes

08 January 2019

By Daisy Catherine L. Mandap

Whenever rights of migrant workers in Hong Kong are discussed nowadays, it is inevitable that questions are raised about whether their plight has improved over the years.

Sadly, the answer to this is, there has been a diminution, instead of improvement, in this regard.
What are the losses?

They started in 1987, when the courts upheld the new conditions of stay for foreign domestic helpers, which included the oppressive 14-day rule. It required all those whose contracts are terminated to leave Hong Kong within 14 days, unless they have ongoing claims or cases.

Then came the mandatory live-in policy, the restriction on driving duties, the rule against so-called job-hopping, and several other moves that further limited the rights of migrant workers.
But what could be the biggest blow was the ruling made in 2010 that upheld Immigration’s decision to deny permanent residency to migrant workers, no matter how long they have done back-breaking work in Hong Kong.

That ruling underscored the sad reality that migrant workers are a disposable commodity in Hong Kong. They are to be discarded once they have outlived their usefulness, either through age, disease or infirmity. It doesn’t matter if some employers who have genuinely regarded their loyal help as family, are willing to bend over backwards to help them stay on, and let their family members come as well.

What about gains? There is only one that comes to mind, and that is the prohibition against dangerous window cleaning which was made part of the domestic workers’ contract early last year, and only because of persistent lobbying by our Consulate officials.

But come to think of it, that restriction should have been there from the beginning. Immigration need not have waited until Rinalyn Duollog and a few other migrants died after falling from height while doing a task no local would ever undertake.

Wage increases shouldn’t count as they do not even offset the high rate of inflation in the city.
Access to justice is another area where Hong Kong authorities appear to have taken a step backwards. Many migrants are arrested and held without bail, on the mere say-so of a disgruntled employer. Then when they succeed in clearing their names before a court, they are given no recourse against the employer who besmirched their name and left them with no job, money, or hope.

Even the victims of atrocious crimes such as extreme physical abuse or rape are left to fend for themselves, not being allowed to work or process new employment contracts while their cases are ongoing.

Meanwhile, culprits in wide-scale fraudulent recruitments are able to go scot-free while the police painstakingly build up a case against them. In not a few cases initially, they could not even be moved to listen to the complaint of the victims.

So how do all these become part of a New Year wish? At the risk of sounding foolhardy, my wish is that Hong Kong authorities would look more kindly at migrant workers, many of whom have freed many locals from domestic work so they could help build the economy.

The good deed could start with giving them a living wage, and not look at how their salary translates into peso because studies show, much of what they earn gets plowed back into the local economy anyway.

Give them better protection so employers are not emboldened to make them sleep in the toilet, kitchen, storage rooms, or in any place no local would deign to rest.

Allow them dignity by not letting employers drive them away from their homes in the wee hours of the morning with just the clothes on their back.

Help them keep body and soul together by restricting the number of hours when their employers could make them work, and that should not include doing house chores on their off days.

And if it’s not yet too late, reconsider the policy of not allowing them to become permanent residents. While the courts have decided with finality on the issue, there is nothing that will stop the government from reconsidering its stance and reward some of the true pillars of the city’s economy.

On a wider scope, I also wish that the economy in Hong Kong, the Philippines and elsewhere, would buck forecasts of doom and gloom, and become more buoyant in the coming year.
Finally, on a personal note, my wish is that people would go back to reading, and reading well. More should attempt to get away from the clutches of social media and its pernicious effect of making just about anyone, least of all those who merely skim posts, feel entitled to express an opinion on any topic under the sun.

Here’s to a more just, prosperous and enlightened 2019.

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