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DWC holds day-long rights seminar to mark anniversary

17 September 2019

By The SUN

Participants and speakers gather at the end of the seminar for a photo-op.
Speakers included from left, Balladares, Mandap, Villar, Tellez and Clarin

The online support group, Domestic Workers Corner, may have been in existence for just two years, but it has already done a lot to reach out and provide comfort and help to distressed Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong.

For its second anniversary offering, DWC led by its founder Rodelia P. Villar, outdid itself by gathering about 200 members for a day-long rights seminar at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office on Sept 14, a statutory holiday.

Invited to speak at the event were key officers and representatives from the Consulate, NGOs like the Mission for Migrant Workers, PathFinders and Card HK Foundation, media like The SUN, and Filipino community organizations like Unifil-Migrante Hong Kong.
DWC members, most of whom are new in Hong Kong, were in rapt attention as speaker after speaker gave first-hand information on the various services they can avail of, and vital issues that concern them.

Among the highlights was the briefing given by the Mission’s general manager, Cynthia Tellez, on the various ploys used by employment agencies to extract illegal fees from migrant workers.

Tellez advised the audience to say no when told by agencies to borrow money from financing companies to pay them illegal fees, and report to Polo on any such attempt by their agency to squeeze them.
Since no receipts are often given for these illegal collections, she said it is important for the worker to keep a diary, and get somebody to act as their witness, should it become necessary to file a complaint against their agency.

Those who are already back in the Philippines can still file a claim against their agency with the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration in Manila. Tellez said the agency stands in the place of the employer who failed to abide by his or her contractual obligations.
“Kung di ka binayaran ng suweldo at iba pang dapat mong matanggap, puwede iyang singilin sa agency mo sa Pilipinas,” she said.
Image may contain: 6 people, people sitting
Tellez lectures on agency's illegal fee collection

Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, chair of United Filipinos-Migrante Hong Kong, appealed to the workers to extend support to the fight to raise their minimum monthly salary to $5,894, saying this amount is based on actual study on how much a “living wage” should be.

She also explained Unifil’s campaign for an 11-hour uninterrupted rest for FDWs, and for their work contract to exclude certain areas of the house such as the toilet, laundry or storage room, as unsuitable resting places for them.

On the national level, Pelaez said Unifil is not against OFWs paying monthly contributions to the Social Security System and other government agencies like Philhealth and Pag-IBIG, but it should be voluntary, and not mandatory.
Daisy Mandap, editor of The SUN, explained how the rights of FDWs in Hong Kong have been curtailed over the years, starting from the imposition of the 14-day rule for terminated workers, to the recent court ruling denying them right of abode.

Mandap, who is a lawyer, also briefly touched on the anti-government protests sweeping across Hong Kong, and why the proposed extradition bill sparked such widespread fear among its citizens.

Earlier, SSS representative Lester Mata explained the various benefits provided by the agency to its members, from sick and maternity payouts to the monthly pension on their retirement.

Mata also said that while the government has made SSS contributions mandatory for OFWs, they can still choose to pay only the lowest monthly premium of less than Php1,000 instead of the maximum contribution of more than Php2,400.

Raymond Ramos of Pag-IBIG also spoke of how OFWs can avail of the various benefits given to members, including but not limited to a low-interest housing loan. Those who invested in Pag-IBIG Fund’s MP2 savings program, for example, earned far higher interest last year than those who put their money in banks or other investment funds.

In the morning, Social Welfare Attache Bethy Dy discussed the programs and services extended by the Department of Social Welfare to distressed OFWs, particularly those who have problems with their spouses or the children they left behind.

She also explained the benefits and help extended to solo parents, and the rules concerning minors traveling abroad.

PathFinder’s Carmen Lam demonstrated, with help from the NGO’s migrant ambassadors, what services can be availed of by pregnant domestic workers, before and after giving birth in Hong Kong.

The message sent out was that, pregnant migrants should not fear or be embarrassed to seek assistance as there are agencies like PathFinders that can help ease the difficulty of giving birth in Hong Kong.

Welfare officer Marivic Clarin took the chance to speak about the different services provided to OFWs by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration.

Clarin also assured that the rebates that OWWA has started distributing to long-time members are based on an actuarial calculation of how much the beneficiaries have paid in, and how much they should be getting in turn from the Php1billion set aside for this purpose.

The rebates paid to those who have worked abroad for at least 10 years and have paid their two-year OWWA membership at least five times, have come under fire from many beneficiaries for being “too little, too late.”

For their part, trainors from Card spoke on the importance of drawing up a monthly budget so migrants can avoid falling into the debt trap, the most widespread problem afflicting Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong.

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Villar wipes away tears as she views a surprise video tribute from her members
The Card group also advised the participants to sign up for the NGO's free financial literacy and livelihood seminars so they can make their earnings work better for them and their family.

The most emotional part of the day came when DWC administrators and other officers surprised Villar with a special tribute, thanking her for help and patience in dealing with the various problems thrown her way by members.

A teary-eyed Villar was presented by the officers with a plaque, while she in turn handed out certificates to all those who took part in the successful event.

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