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Pinay DH fired for asking for 1st day-off in 4 months to mourn mom

19 June 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap
Rose enjoying her day-off in Central, pre-covid

When it rains, it pours. This was what it felt like for Rose Suarez, when just a week after  her mother died in the Philippines on Apr 23, her employer in Hong Kong cut their contract and told her to leave their home.

Before this, 42-year-old Rose, who is married and has two kids back in Caloocan City, was not allowed to take a day off for more than four months, with her female employer using the spread of the coronavirus as excuse.

“April 23 po yun, Huwebes (the day her mother died). Yun po yung araw na nagpaalam ako na sa darating na Sunday off po ako. Yung araw din na yun ay tinerminate nya ako. Kaya sabi nga po niya hindi na ako mag day-off kasi sa April 30 baba na ako sa kanya,” Rose said
(That was April 23, the day I asked permission to take my day off on the next Sunday <Apr 26>. That same day she terminated me. She said there was no need for me to take a day-off because I would have to leave her house on Apr 30).

On her last day at work, her employer made her work until the afternoon, then paid her a total of $817 for her unpaid salary for 13 days, annual leave for 2.25 days (minus $2,000 for a loan she was offered before she took her Christmas break), and an air ticket.

She was not paid a month’s salary in lieu of notice.

Rose would have flown out the very next day, May 1, because that was the date that her employer had booked for her return flight to the Philippines, but some of her friends told her to stay put, and look for another employer first.

She was glad she stayed because she was indeed signed up by a new employer, thanks in part to Immigration’s relaxation of its 14-day rule for terminated FDWs amid the pandemic.

At the prodding of a friend, she also found the courage to seek advice from the Hong Kong Labour Department for the four months she was not given a rest day, plus the salary in lieu of notice she should have been paid.
The kindly labour officer Rose spoke with advised her to file her complaint on her return to Hong Kong, as there was no more time left to call her former employer to a conciliation before her scheduled flight to Manila.

But in the meantime, her savings were all being used up extending her visa, booking and re-booking flights, paying her boarding house plus her transportation fares while searching for a new employer.

Luckily, her case was brought to the attention of  Consul General Raly Tejada, who referred her to Assistant Labour Attache Tony Villafuerte for the US$200 financial assistance for displaced workers under the government’s “Akap” program.
Rose waiting for her flight back to Manila on Jun 19

Within days, Rose had the financial boost she needed to finally book a flight to Manila on Jun 19.

Rose got another lucky break when her case was brought to the attention of the Mission for Migrant Workers, which encouraged her to pursue her claim against her former employer.

Mission’s general manager Cynthia Abdon-Tellez reminded all migrant workers that their employment contracts specifically state that they should have a rest day once a week, and enjoy all the statutory holidays declared by the government.

That law did not change even after the outbreak of the pandemic, and despite an advisory issued by the Labour Department in early February, suggesting FDWs spend their rest day inside their employer’s home.

On being told that Rose was not alone in her plight, Tellez advised all those who are still being held captive in their employers' homes to keep a diary, just in case they get terminated as Rose was, for insisting on taking a much-needed break.

The diary should serve as evidence of the times they were forbidden from going out, and a record of the conversations they had each time the question of a day-off was raised.

Further, Tellez said the workers should talk to their employers calmly but firmly. They should tell their employers bluntly that they are committing a possible crime of illegal detention by not allowing their helper to go out on her day-off.

“Kung talagang nag-aalala ang employer, dapat hindi din sila lumalabas. Pero lumalabas din sila kaya hindi makatwiran yung dahilan nila na hindi pagpapalabas sa iyo,” said Tellez.

(If the employer is truly worried about the virus, they should not leave the house as well. But they do go out, so it’s unreasonable not to let you <the helper> do the same thing on your day-off).

Finally, Tellez said migrant workers must always speak out, even at the risk of losing their jobs, because that is the only way to prevent abuse.
Abdon-Tellez says migrant workers should speak out to protect themselves from abuse

Told this, Rose said that at first, she did not mind not going out, as she was herself scared of contracting the virus. Also, just having spent Christmas and New Year in the Philippines, she was pretty content to spend her weekly day-off in her employers’ house in Taikoo Shing.

She was also glad because she was paid $150 for each Sunday off that she missed. But she was paid because she worked non-stop every single day since returning to Hong Kong from the Philippines in early January.

Then her mother died, and Rose was beside herself with grief. She knew the strict quarantine measures in the Philippines would mean she wouldn’t have time to say a final goodbye to her mother, as health protocols also required a quick burial.

So for the first time since the start of the year, she asked, even begged, to be allowed to go out – even for just half a day - just so she could grieve in private, and call her distraught father outside the confines of her employers’ home, but was still rejected.

It pained Rose because she had worked for the family for two years and four months without a complaint, and it was the first time she had asked for a personal favor.

It saddened her even more to realize that her employers had wanted her out of Hong Kong fast because of the many contractual violations they knew they had committed, all the while using the coronavirus outbreak as a flimsy shield.

 (Next: 2 Pinays who haven't been allowed  to go out for 5 months, and counting)
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