When Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello spoke on Oct. 15 about government plans to ban deployments to Saudi Arabia since scores of OFWs aren’t paid their salaries for one or two years, it again highlighted the recurring and persistent maltreatment of foreign workers there.
How can OFWs bear working seven days a week without any day off month after month, year after year under harsh work conditions and not get paid for work for about a year or two? This is certainly despicable and unacceptable.
The continuing misery of many OFWs in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East inevitably raises this question: Where is the best place for Filipino women to work as domestic helpers?
Without batting an eyelash, I’d say it’s Hong Kong, a small city with a population of just about 8 million in Southern China. This city currently hosts about 220,000 Filipino domestic helpers, scores of whom have been working here for 15, 20 or more years.
Cases in point are David Guevarra who has been working in Hong Kong as a domestic helper/driver with a monthly salary of about HK$10,000 or about P65,000 and Mary Deso-acido, a domestic helper for over 15 years with a minimum monthly pay of HK$4,630 or P30,000.
Why have they opted to work in Hong Kong for many years?
Because of the following major reasons unseen in Saudi Arabia, elsewhere in the Middle East and other parts of the world:
1) Standard employment contract
A Hong Kong government prescribed employment contract for all foreign domestic helpers sets out clearly their minimum monthly salary, their rights and obligations under the law, and general work conditions.
2) Rule of law
Unlike in the Middle East where foreign workers often don’t have equal protection as locals under laws of host governments, foreign domestics in Hong Kong enjoy as much protection as their employers under local laws. Because of this, physical abuses of foreign helpers by employers are very rare and culprits are prosecuted and even jailed if culprits are proven guilty in court. Rapes which are common in the Middle East are very rare in Hong Kong and perpetrators are jailed if proven guilty.
3) Reasonably high salary and hardly any problem of non-payment
Foreign domestics in Hong Kong receive a minimum monthly salary of HK$4,630 or a little over P30,000 net with free board and lodging provided by their employers. This compares to less than P20,000 a month in most countries in the Middle East. Non-payment of salaries is never a problem since Hong Kong’s Labor Department often steps in to ensure foreign helpers get paid whatever is due to them.
4) Excellent medical care
As soon as a foreign domestic gets a Hong Kong Identification Card from the Immigration Department, she or he automatically gets entitled to all medical services provided by public hospitals. A case in point is Ms Elma de la Cruz, 39, a stage four brain cancer sufferer who was admitted recently in a public hospital in the Chai Wan district without paying a single dollar or cent. Because of the seriousness of her condition, she underwent a major brain surgery a day after she got admitted. That delicate major surgery to remove most of the cancerous cells inside her brain plus the wide array of specialized tests and post-surgery services that she received would easily cost P1.5 to P2 million if done in the Philippines. But when she steps out of hospital in one, two or three months, chances are she won’t pay anything and her employer will probably just about HK$3,000 to $5,000 or less than P40,000.
5) Proximity to Manila
Hong Kong is less than two hours by plane to and from Manila. It’s just like taking a bus from Cubao to Mall of Asia with moderate to heavy traffic along Edsa, Ayala and Gil Puyat in Makati. The proximity to the Philippines is can be very vital to OFWs, especially in times of emergencies back home. One time, the son of single mom Mary Deso-acido got hospitalized, prompting her to make hasty arrangements to fly home. Only a day after she got the news that her son needed her in hospital, she boarded a flight back to Manila and took a same-day connecting flight to Bacolod in Negros. In sharp contrast, air travel from Bahrain or other parts of the Middle East takes 6 to 8 hours. OFWs also need to get exit visas from the host government, a process which can take days or even weeks depending on an OFW’s relations with her employer. – By: by Jun Concepcion