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OFWs pack PCG, Polo despite ‘stay home’ call

10 February 2020

By The SUN
 
People pack the Consulate, which has been operating at shortened service hours since Feb 3
Many foreign domestic workers have defied the Hong Kong government’s call for them to stay at home on their rest day, to attend to urgent matters at the Consulate in Admiralty and at the labor office in Wanchai.

But at their usual haunts in Central, their numbers visibly thinned on Sunday, Feb 9, suggesting the migrant workers are at least heeding the call to avoid large gatherings.
 
Rare shot of Chater Road without the crowds
Over at the Consulate, about 200 people lined up at the service counters, mostly holding copies of job contracts. One OFW said she was there to have her contract notarized for renewal. Others said they were attending to their Social Security membership.

The Consulate has shortened its working hours from 10am to 3pm starting Feb 3, saying it does not want people who transact business with them to get caught in the rush hours, which could possibly expose them to the new coronavirus.

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At the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Wanchai, the community hall was opened to accommodate the big crowd of workers processing their contract renewal documents.

“Nagulat kami sa dami ng tao ngayon, mga contract renewals iyan,” said Assistant Labor Attaché Tony Villafuerte.

That could be because of the difficulty of hiring new workers from the Philippines, where about 15,000 new hires bound for Hong Kong are stranded because of a travel ban imposed on all Filipinos by the Manila government effective Feb 2.

Polo had to use the adjoining community hall to contain the overflow crowd
  
Throughout the day, only a few groups of helpers gathered around Statue Square and Chater Road, the favorite haunts in Central of Filipino migrant workers.

One group that decided to hold a get-together for members who recently celebrated their birthdays was Card Hong Kong Foundation. About 20 members and a few guests had lunch in a secluded corner of Pacific Place in Admiralty, but broke up the party shortly afterwards.
Lead trainor Victoria Munar said her group just wanted a break from being confined at home along with their employers who mostly work from home now. The group which recently held its latest financial literacy seminar, also wanted to catch up on events happening around them, particularly on how each responds to the coronavirus outbreak.
 
Card HK holds a quick get-together to allow members to unwind and catch up
At World-Wide House, the three-level commercial center where most Filipinos go to for anything they need from home was packed with people. The crowd was not as dense as on Sundays before the “stay at home” call.

Nowadays, many Filipinos go there also to look for face masks, alcohol rubs and sanitizers which they think will help them fight off the coronavirus outbreak.

Hong Kong’s Labour Department issued an advisory on Jan 31, asking foreign domestic workers to stay at home on their days off to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The call immediately drew flak from migrant groups, who called it illegal as it violated the workers’ rights under the law, and discriminatory for singling out FDWs.

Asked about the criticism afterwards, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the advisory was meant to protect  FDWs as they tend to congregate during their once-a-week holiday.
 
WorldWide Plaza teems with people despite the stay-home advice
But many migrant workers said the call would expose them to more exploitation by their employers who already make them do house chores before they leave, and on their return home, on their day off.

Many also complained about being singled out when their employers send them out to the market every day, potentially exposing them more to viruses.

Consul General Raly Tejada has said he understands the reason for the HK Labour Department’s advisory, but that it was up to the migrant domestic workers if they wanted to heed the call or not.

If the worker agrees to stay at home, he said employers should not make them do chores as that will be illegal.
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