Amid 2019-nCoV outbreak, HK employers reminded bringing household workers to mainland China is illegal

Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 03 2020 06:05 PM | Updated as of Feb 03 2020 07:17 PM

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Hong Kong - Amid the outbreak of the 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease, the Philippines' chief diplomat in Hong Kong on Sunday reminded employers of Filipino household workers it is illegal for the latter to be brought to mainland China.

Consul General Raly Tejada issued the warning after hearing concerns of the Filipino community in the territory in a meeting organized at the consulate.

"The Consulate is very clear on this. We are appealing to all employers not to bring their employees to mainland China at this time. It is very clear that right now... number 1, it is illegal for employers to bring employees to the mainland because that is not part of their contract. And if they (the helpers) refuse to do so, they (employers) should respect this decision," Tejada said. 

Pressures have been mounting for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to fully shut all the city's borders with China, as thousands of medical professionals, in a bid to contain the 2019-nCoV outbreak, have begun a five-day strike from Feb. 3, following failed negotiations with the government. 

Lam announced Monday all borders will be closed, except for the Shenzhen Bay joint checkpoint and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

The border shutdown policy may have an impact on some 300,000 members of the migrant domestic worker community, as some employers tend to take their helpers to the mainland.

Attended by various Filipino community leaders who are mostly employed as domestic helpers, Sunday's meeting tackled wide-ranging issues, from their employment conditions to properly wearing masks.

Representatives from the Department of Health's Center for Health Protection made a presentation about the novel coronavirus, that has already killed more than 300 and infected over 14,000 others in China. Precautionary measures were enumerated.

Some migrant workers complained they are forced by their employers to stay at home on their rest days amid the spread of the new virus strain. They said it is unfair since they also need to go out to places like the market.

"The position here of the Consulate is that the decision rests mainly on the helper. If the helper does not want to heed the advice and go out, then it is their right to do so," Tejada said.

Last week, the Hong Kong Labor Department issued an advisory urging workers to stay at home on their rest days as part of a precautionary measure.

As of Feb. 2, Hong Kong's total number of confirmed cases stands at 15.

A Filipino domestic worker who was quarantined after being exposed to a couple infected with the 2019-nCoV is yet to be released, although she is said to be in stable condition.

Tejada asked employers also to provide their household workers with face masks as they "are part of your household, they are part of your family."

Around 100,000 face masks are expected to arrive in Hong Kong from the Philippines in the coming weeks, on top of some 10,000 masks from the SM Group's "humanitarian donation." 

"There are misconceptions of employers not paying for the medical needs of the employees. If there are any issues like this, please inform the Consulate, and we will make a call or we will approach employers to enable us to intervene in such difficulties," Tejada said.

"Rest assured that the Consulate will do its best to ensure the safety and the needs of the employees are met at this difficult time," he added.

Meanwhile, migrant group 'The United Filipinos in Hong Kong' called the Philippine government's move to impose a travel ban on the whole of China, Hong Kong and Macau as "exaggerated."

"The declaration created confusion among OFWs who went home to the Philippines for a vacation and are currently stuck there as their jobs here hang in the balance," the group said in a statement.

"Many Filipino domestic workers are expressing fear of their contracts being terminated because they could not go back," it added.

The group is demanding that all Filipinos be allowed to return to Hong Kong for work, study, and residency purposes.

Dana Sandoval, spokesperson of the Philippine immigration bureau, said Monday that while the agency understands the concern of OFWs stuck in the country, "I believe the (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) and the (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) will be doing their part in ensuring na itong mga trabaho nitong ating mga kababayan (the jobs of our countrymen) abroad ay manantili (will still be there) despite this travel ban."

The Philippine government announced Sunday that Filipino citizens and those with permanent resident visas issued by the Philippine government who come from China, Hong Kong and Macau may be allowed to enter the country, but has to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

Travels to China and the two territories are also temporarily prohibited.