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Displaced helpers, musicians swamp Polo for US$200 cash aid

06 May 2020

By The SUN

Polo service counters (File photo)

Hundreds of domestic workers and musicians who either got sick of Covid-19, lost their jobs or both, have been swarming the Philippine Overseas Labor Office for the past several weeks to apply for financial aid from the government.

Hong Kong Immigration figures show the number of Filipino domestic workers who lost their jobs last month alone numbered more than 3,000. From January, the figure was almost 5,000.

As for the musicians, a total of 69 were either infected or quarantined, leading to loss of income, according to Manuela D. Lo, chairperson of the Hong Kong Musicians Union, who has been helping them with their claims.
All of them stand to receive US$200 from the Department of Labor and Employment’s Akap Program, which is given to overseas Filipino workers who lost their incomes or jobs as a result of the pandemic.

A further US$200 is given by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration as medical assistance for those who were stricken with Covid-19.
Mark Anthony Balcueva, drummer of an all-Filipino band that played at bars in Wanchai and Tsim Sha Tsui, says he was one of those who received the relief aid from both OWWA and Dole after his recovery from Covid-19.

“Ang bilis nga po, e. Pagkatapos kong mag-file ng claim, isang araw lang ay binigay na,” he said.

Balcueva is unsure when he can start working again after Covid-19

Balcueva spent 18 days in Ruttonjee Hospital where he was taken after being stricken with Covid-19 on Mar 25. After his recovery and discharge, he still faces uncertainty even as bars are set to reopen on Friday, since they are still forbidden from having live entertainment.

Lo said 20 Filipino musicians were infected when the virus swept through four bars – Insomnia in Central, Dusk Till Dawn and Centre Stage in Wanchai, and All Night Long in Tsim Sha Tsui – during the last week of March.
A further 49 suffered loss of income after they were classified as close contacts of those who fell ill, and put in quarantine centers for 14 days.

Some of those who got sick are still in hospital and so have been unable to file claims, she said. Of those quarantined, she said “some need to wait because Polo has reached its quota, and is still waiting if more funds will come from Manila,”
 
HKMU's Lo has been helping the stricken musicians file for financial aid
Lo says she’s “very pleased” with how OWWA has responded to the musicians’ request for assistance.
The figures for the domestic workers who have applied and/or received the financial grants are more murky because Polo officers decline to release information to the media without prior approval from the Dole head office in Manila.

But at around noon today, May 6, about 25 domestic workers gathered in the conference room of the Polo offices in Wanchai, filling out application forms for the Akap program.

A cranky female staff stopped The SUN from taking pictures, saying this was no longer allowed inside the Polo offices.

But she grudgingly revealed that hundreds of workers had already availed of the cash assistance program.

“Nakapag-release na kami ng 200, magri-release pa kami ng 200,” she brusquely said, but would not give exact figures.

One of the applicants who said she was from Ilocos Norte but declined to give her name, said she was dismissed on the spot by her employers on Monday, but was given a month’s salary in lieu of notice.

Both her employers lost their jobs as a result of the economic fallout from the crisis.

“Basta na lang akong sinabihan na i-terminate na nila ako,” said the woman, who had worked for the family for just three months. (They just told me suddenly that they would terminate my contract”)

She said she had previously finished her two-year contract with another employer.

Another female helper, from Isabela, said she was the one who broke her contract because she could no longer bear to stay with her employers of just a few months.

“Lagi kaming nagsasagutan tapos ang pahinga, gabi na. Laging mainit ang ulo, wala naman akong ginagawang masama. Ginagawa mo na nga ang iyong trabaho marami laging tanong sa akin,” the helper said.

(“We always argue, and I only get to rest late night. My employer is always in a bad mood even I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve been trying to do my job well but I’m always being asked a lot of things.”)

She however, said, that her employer agreed to let her go amicably.

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