MANILA, Philippines – There will be no wage increase for domestic helpers in Hong Kong, the Labor department announced yesterday.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang, meanwhile, assured President Aquino that Filipinos will be shielded from any backlash arising from Monday’s hostage-taking incident where eight tourists from the Chinese territory were killed.
The Minimum Allowable Wage (MAW) for foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) in Hong Kong would remain at HK$3,580 per month, the Labor department said.
However, the helpers’ monthly food allowance in lieu of free food will be increased by HK$10 from not less than HK$740 to HK$750. The increase in food allowance would apply to all contracts signed starting today.
Labor Attaché Romulo Salud explained that the MAW announcement would have been made two weeks earlier but the officer in charge went on leave. He said the wage freeze had nothing to do with Monday’s hostage drama.
“The government regularly reviews the MAW for FDHs and has decided to freeze the MAW level this year. The review takes account of Hong Kong’s general economic and employment situation, as reflected through a basket of economic indicators including the relevant income movement, price change and labor market situation,” a spokesman said in a press release posted at the government website.
“The government has also reviewed the food allowance in lieu of free food this year and decided to raise it to the new level after taking account of the movement in the relevant consumer price index,” the spokesman added.
But the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL), a domestic helpers’ union with 6,000 members, criticized the paltry increase in food allowance.
As of July, there were 134,023 Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong.
Begged for understanding
President Aquino admitted yesterday that during his conversation with Tsang, “we begged for their understanding on the outcome of the situation.”
He, in turn, was promised that innocent Filipinos would not be subject to retaliation in any form, Mr. Aquino said.
“I think it went without saying when the Chief Executive and I had our conversation, he did mention a strong population of Filipinos there and, if I remember correctly, they understood that they would be taken care of,” Mr. Aquino said.
Tsang’s assurance came as the Filipino community in Hong Kong voiced fears of retribution following the bloody end to Monday’s hostage drama.
The main Filipino labor union in Hong Kong said there had been at least one sacking of a Filipina domestic helper by a Hong Kong employer angry over the siege in which an ex-policeman seized a busload of Hong Kong tourists on Monday.
“This (sacking) is directly related to this incident,” Eman Villanueva, vice chairman of the Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union, told a press conference without giving further details.
“(Helpers) can be sacked without explanation under Hong Kong labor law,” Elizabeth Tang, chief executive of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, told reporters.
“That’s why we’re worried about people venting their anger and frustration against domestic helpers.”
But the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) yesterday said there is no mass termination of Filipino workers employed in Hong Kong following the Luneta carnage.
Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said not even a single case of termination related to the Luneta incident was recorded, contrary to what the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
“There was one case of termination, but it later turned out that it was prior to the Luneta incident. So based on the latest report we got from our labor officials, there is no termination related to the Luneta incident,” Baldoz disclosed, adding that Filipinos are also not being harassed.
Lawmakers have warned the government to brace for a possible backlash against Filipino workers in Hong Kong after the police bungled the rescue operation.
Off to Beijing
Vice President Jejomar Binay and his delegation will leave this morning for Beijing for a meeting with Chinese officials regarding the Luneta incident.
The Office of the Vice President said Binay and his delegation will leave at 7:20 a.m. for Beijing for a meeting in the Chinese capital in the afternoon.
The delegation will also fly to Hong Kong tomorrow morning for a meeting with Tsang.
The Philippine officials will also visit the families of the victims.
Jackie defends RP
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda welcomed the magnanimous pronouncement of Chinese action superstar Jackie Chan on his Twitter account that incidents like the Luneta siege do happen around the world and that “humans should be united and not kill or hate each other.”
“We thank Mr. Jackie Chan for extending his hand of friendship. We hope that our friends in Hong Kong will also extend their hands of friendship again to us. It is an isolated incident, it is an unfortunate incident,” Lacierda said.
Malacañang also sees no problem with Hong Kong-bound Filipinos.
“It’s a personal choice on the part of the Filipinos traveling to HK,” Lacierda told Palace reporters in a briefing. He said the needs of the victims and survivors of the hostage drama have been taken care of.
“It’s (hostage incident) something that we never expected. It’s something that we have to learn from and to make sure that it will never happen again,” Lacierda added. “In every incident, however unfortunate, there’s always a lesson to be learned.”
Lacierda likewise rectified misimpressions by some quarters that President Aquino was smiling when he conducted an ocular inspection of the bus, right after he held a press conference midnight of Monday.
“It’s very unfair for some to say that he was smiling. He was very serious. I don’t think he was smiling. That’s farthest from the truth. He’s not taking it lightly. After the press con, he even went to the scene of the crime,” he said. – Carina Roncesvalles, Aurea Calica, Delon Porcalla, Mayen Jaymalin, Evelyn Macairan, Paolo Romero, Pia Lee-Brago