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Sweet justice for 3 OFWs detained due to coronavirus

15 September 2020

 By Daisy CL Mandap

C.Z. savors her first Sunday of freedom by taking a trip to the Peak

Justice is served to those who know how to fight for their rights.

This is what three Filipina domestic workers learned recently, when they were rewarded for standing up to their employers who had illegally prevented them from taking a day-off for months, using the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse.

The three are among the first to benefit from the Immigration Department’s recent decision to speed up the processing of employment visas after Covid-19 spread among FDHs who were forced to stay in cramped hostels while in-between jobs. 

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The first two, C.D., C.E., were issued their new employment visas a day apart last week,  just about a month since they applied to move to new employers.

The third, C.Z., is set to pick up her new employment visa on Sept 24, only seven weeks since she was rescued from the clutches of her cantankerous and mean former employer.

But up until recently, all three were in despair, as they were virtually locked up by their employers who used the contagion to either scare or try to convince them that it was unsafe to go out on their own. 




The weird thing was, they were made to go out for errands, though always in the company of someone in their employer’s household. 

Even when they had to send money to their family in the Philippines, someone would always go out with them and stand guard until they had finished their transaction, and would then accompany them home.

Their employers did look unreasonably scared of getting the virus, but were patently more worried that their helper would somehow bring it back with them if they were allowed to go out on their own.

Hope shone on the detained Filipinas when concerned individuals from various groups - notably the Mission for Migrant Workers, the Domestic Workers Corner and The SUN – decided to lend them a hand.

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Through online consultations with the three groups, the workers  realized that it was illegal for their employers to stop them from taking a day-off. They could be asked not to go out on their day-off, but they should not work. If they do not agree to the request, they should be allowed out.

The advisers, especially Cynthia Tellez and Edwina Antonio of the Mission, were quick to point out, however, that the decision ultimately rested with the worker. They could decide to leave or stay, but always with the knowledge that their rights were being violated.

Said Tellez: "Desisyon pa rin nila iyan. Kahit anong hila mo palabas ng bahay dahil delikado na ang sitwasyon nila ay walang mangyayari kung sunod pa rin sila nang sunod sa employer."

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

(It's ultimately their decision. Even if you keep trying to pull them out because they're in a dangerous situation, nothing will come out of it if they keep following their employers' wrongful order).

Antonio said it was regrettable that all three were newcomers in Hong Kong and did not know their rights.

"Ang mahalaga ay ang pag-alam sa kanilang karaparatan sa ilalim ng batas dahil makakatulong ito para ilaban ang tama. Mahalaga din ang pagkonsulta sa mga organizations at individuals working for the rights of migrants para mabigyan ng tamang abiso kung paano mapanalo ang kaso. Pangatlo, manindigan para sa tama, huwag mag-alinlangan. At ang panghuli, ibahagi ang positibong karanasan para makatulong sa iba na kumakaharap din sa ganyang problema," she said.

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(What is important is that they know their rights under the law because this will help them fight for what is right. It's also important to consult organizations and individuals working for the rights of migrants so they are advised well on what they should do to win their claims. Third, stand up for what is right, don't hesitate. Lastly, they should share their positive experiences so they could help others who might be facing the same problems).

The first to decide to break free from her illegal detention was C.D., who had worked for her employer in Fo Tan, New Territories since April last year. She was allowed to take a day off at first but this stopped after the coronavirus outbreak in the last week of January.

C.D. was a virtual captive in her employer’s house for five months until she thought of using social media to appeal for help. Emboldened by the advice that what her employer was doing was illegal, C.D. made up her mind to step out on Jun 19.

For C.E., the final straw came on Jul 19 when her employer in Shatin, New Territories, again reneged on a promise to let her take a day-off after being cooped up in the house for six months. It was her birthday the previous day, and she had hoped to spend it by attending service at her church.

C.E. (her back turned) pays The SUN a visit along with DWC's Baby Jean de Leon 

C.E. had not been allowed out on her own since Jan 17, which was even before the first coronavirus case in Hong Kong was reported.  Worse, she was made to suffer the indignity of seeing her male employer strutting around the house naked.

C.Z. was the longest holdout. She started working for her employer, Mrs Chung, in her Shatin home on Jan 20 and managed to muster courage to leave only on Aug 3. And that was only because Mrs Chung’s grown-up son again lost his temper and threw a printer in her direction, making it shatter into pieces a few inches from where she was standing.

Like C.E., her only wish at some point during her nearly seven months in virtual captivity was to be allowed to take a day-off on her birthday on Jun 12, but this did not happen. 

C.Z. had not even heard of the MTR when she finally emerged from the shadows.

All three had sought help from their respective employment agencies but were ignored. The agencies reportedly told them to just do as they were told, and that if they couldn’t stand the stress from being cooped up for months, they should initiate the termination of their contracts.

Not one of the agencies appears to have warned the employers that they were acting illegally by forcing their helpers to stay in the house against their will, especially for such long periods of time.

But the tide eventually turned in the workers' favor. Not only were they issued new employment visas quickly, they also managed to get much of what they were claiming from their previous employers.

With help from the Mission and The SUN, C.D. settled her case against her former employer for more than $9,000, while C.E. got nearly $8,000. 

C.D.'s earthly possessions which DWC's Rain Tuando helped carry to the Mission's offices

Both were paid a month's salary in lieu of notice, an acknowledgment that it was their employers who effectively terminated their contracts by committing an illegal act. 

C.Z. accepted just over $6,000 on the day she left her employer, tired, hungry and scared, just so she would be allowed to leave with her things. 

She has just been offered an additional $6,000 after filing a claim with the Labor Department for salary in lieu, and payment for some of the days she was forced to stay at home, but she is hedging as her employer is insisting on a no-fault clause.

Now that she has regained her freedom, C.Z. is not about to let anyone trample on her rights again.

(Those who want to seek advice from the Mission for Migrant Workers may call 2522 8264, email mission@migrants.net or leave a message on their website: https://www.migrants.net/index.php or their Facebook account, MFMW HK. Their office is located at St John's Cathedral, 4 Garden Road, Central, and they are open Sunday to Friday, 10am to 6pm.)

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