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More than 10,200 Filipino DHs lost jobs in HK since January

31 August 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

Nearly 2,000 more Filipino DHs lost their jobs because of the negative test and hotel quarantine requirements
A total of 1,914 Filipino domestic helpers lost their jobs in July as more employers appear to have been forced to hire those who were already in Hong Kong to avoid the “heavy cost” of bringing in workers from the Philippines.

But that’s just part of the continuing decline in the number of Filipino DHs in Hong Kong. Immigration Department figures show that since January this year when the coronavirus outbreak in the city began, 10,216 Filipino helpers here have lost their jobs.

The downward trend has continued after Hong Kong imposed strict travel restrictions starting Jul 25 for all new arrivals from seven countries, including FDHs from both the Philippines and Indonesia.
From this date, those arriving from the so-called “high-risk countries” are required to submit a negative test result for Covid-19, and a confirmed hotel booking for their 14-day quarantine before being allowed to board their flights to Hong Kong.

The test and hotel quarantine requirement apply to all incoming helpers, both new hires and those returning from their vacation.

Many of the helpers who lost their jobs in Hong Kong, on the other hand, said their employers gave financial difficulties related to the coronavirus crisis as the reason for terminating their contracts.

Immigration statistics show that the population of Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong dropped to 209,512 in July from 211,426 in June, or a loss of nearly 2,000.

Indonesian helpers in the city suffered a deeper cut, with their population down to 161,762, a loss of 2,766 from June. This could be largely due to Indonesia’s ban on new deployments to Hong Kong as a result of the pandemic.

The decline in the Filipinos’ numbers was the biggest since the peak of the pandemic’s second wave in March, when the helper population dropped by 2,941 as employers dismissed their maids and sought refuge abroad from the creeping Covid-19.

Relocation and loss of job due to the economic downturn were the main reasons thousands of employers decided to let go of their domestic helpers then.

“Financial reason po ang inilagay sa termination letter, kasi June pa po nawalan ng trabaho si amo,” said one helper who approached the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to register for a “repatriation” flight to Manila in mid-July.

Another worker who had been with her employers for 22.5 years said her contract is not being renewed because her employer has not been rehired since losing his job in February. The employer also asked to pay a reduced long service fee to the helper because of the financial strain on his family.

Other employers simply told their helpers they needed to go as they lost their jobs themselves, or had to take deep cuts in their salaries.

A Labour Department survey of the employment situation in the first quarter this year showed the number of Hong Kong people with jobs decreased 1.8% to 2.76 million in March from 2.82 million at the end of December 2019.

That means 55,584 people lost their jobs from January to March this year alone. Results of the second quarter survey have yet to be released amid the work slowdown in government.
A number of workers said they either got sacked for insisting on taking their day-off, or decided to leave their employers because they had been prevented from leaving the house for as long as seven months.

But Thomas Chan, head of Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies, said members point to two major reasons for the sharp drop in FDH arrivals in Hong Kong in the past month.
The 72-hour limit to the swab test is causing a lot of problems for many departing FDHs in Manila
He cited Hong Kong’s strict requirement of a negative result of a swab test taken within 72 hours of a helper’s departure from either the Philippines or Indonesia.

Most agencies find it difficult to meet the requirement due to the tight time limit between the test and flight. While Hong Kong wants the test taken within 72 hours of departure, government-accredited testing centers in Manila take 3-5 days to release the result.

“The second reason is the heavy cost of the test (in Manila) and the 14-day hotel quarantine in Hong Kong. It forces employers to rethink if they really deserve to have a worker from overseas,” said Chan, who is also general manager of Bright International Services Co.

He said the nucleic acid (swab) test and the hotel quarantine cost employers on average $7,000-10,000. “Therefore, employers in my agency prefer to hire those in Hong Kong and cancel those stranded overseas even if their visas are ready,” Chan said.

Chan said Bright International’s partner agency in Manila didn’t deploy any workers to Hong Kong since Jul 25.

“(To cite) one example, a worker was scheduled to have test and we also reserved the flight. However, one day before the test, the airline cancelled the flight. Then we needed to reschedule the test and the flight. So, on and on,” Chan said.

“By shifting from overseas to locally available maids, employers just add a few thousand dollars more for documentation and the worker is in sight, no need to worry (over) the uncertain and long wait..”, he said.

The Hong Kong government admits it has intentionally imposed the restrictions to limit the number of FDHs arriving in the city, and allowing those whose contracts have expired to remain if they have trouble exiting to their home countries.

Labour Secretary Law Chi-kwong said that before the coronavirus outbreak, 580 FDHs on average arrived in the city each day. After the policy shift, the number was reduced to about 100 arrivals per day.

But since the negative test result for Covid-19 was made a precondition for them flying out to Hong Kong, the number has dwindled to just about 30 daily.

Foreign Domestic Helpers Population in Hong Kong

As of end of Month/Year
Other nationalities
Total -- all nationalities

Inc India    9,052
209 512
161 762
4 522
4 379
380 175

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