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EOC warns employers not to use Covid-19 to force helpers not to take day-off

19 June 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

CD's appeal for help before she was rescued from her employer's home by a friend

Amid complaints that some employers are still refusing to allow their foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) from taking their weekly day-off, citing the coronavirus outbreak as excuse, the Equal Opportunities Commission is sending the word out: this is illegal.

The move comes as more Filipina migrant workers have come out to complain that their employers have kept them at home for up to six months, on the pretext that the risk of contamination remains high.

This is despite the government’s move to allow as many as 50 people to gather in public, in a further sign that the Covid-19 infection has been put under control.

At least four such FDHs have sought The SUN’s help in the past few days, saying they have been under tremendous mental stress because of their continuous confinement.

One of them, CDS, was forced to leave her employer’s home in Fotan today, Jun 19, because her request for a day-off tomorrow, Saturday, was again rejected.

CDS had been detained by her employer since Jan 27, or for nearly five months.

Yesterday, another Filipina, Rose Suarez, flew back to Manila, more than a month after she was terminated by her employer for insisting on taking a day-off for the first time since January. 

Rose just asked to be allowed to go out for a few hours on Apr 26, so she could grieve in private over her mother's death.

These are exactly what the EOC is trying to prevent, by seeking the help of Filipino and Indonesian media in translating and publishing a recent article written by its chair, Ricky Chu, where he warned employers of breaking the law by not allowing their helpers to take a day off.
EOC's Ricky Chu says it is illegal for employers to compel their helpers not to take a day-off
In his article originally written in Cantonese, Chu said: “An employer who compels his/her FDH to work on a rest day without the consent of the FDH or fails to grant rest days to the FDH is in breach of the Employment Ordinance and is liable to prosecution.”

Chu said there is no problem with the employer asking for a different rest-day arrangement with the helper, but that should happen only with the consent of both parties.

Under an advisory issued by the HK Labour Department on Feb. 2, that modified arrangement may include the helper staying at home, but not being made to work; or substituting another rest day to prevent large numbers of FDHs gathering in public.

Chu further warned that an employer who dismisses a helper on the presumption that the latter has contracted the coronavirus because she had gone out on her rest day, may  have also violated the Disability Discrimination Ordinance.

The DDO makes it unlawful for anyone to treat another less favourably because of a disability or disease.
Chu said this prohibition includes a disability that is merely “imputed” on a person, or is based on a mere presumption.

“That means even though your FDH was not infected with the novel coronavirus, but you think that she did and therefore discriminate against her, you may have breached the legislation,” he said.
The only exemption to this rule is that the unfavorable treatment of a person with disability is “reasonably necessary to protect public health,” such as when a patient with an infectious disease is put in isolation.

A worker dismissed due to Covid-19 (file)

Earlier, Cynthia Abdon-Tellez also warned that employers may be committing the crime of illegal detention by preventing their helpers from taking a day-off.

She also said that a domestic worker who has been kept inside the house against her will can walk out on her job anytime as the employer was the first to violate their contract.

If that happens, the employer will still be liable to pay a month’s salary in lieu of notice, apart from all the payment due the worker, including unpaid salary, annual leave, transportation allowance, and return air ticket.

In addition, the worker can apply to process a new work contract in Hong Kong, if she is able to prove that she was forced to break her contract because of abuse or any illegal act committed by the employer.

That is the reason Tellez always reminds workers to keep a diary and a record of chats or conversations with their employers, should it become necessary to prove their allegations before government agencies, and even the police.


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