Filipino workers in Hong Kong who test positive for COVID-19 will receive US$200 or more than P10,000 cash aid from the government, Malacanang said Monday.
Acting presidential spokesman and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the cash assistance will be coursed through the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) to overseas Filipino workers infected by the virus to help them while they recuperate.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, meanwhile, denied reports that Filipino domestics were being laid off as a result of COVID-19, saying the POLO in Hong Kong has sent no such reports to the department.
However, Bello said in an ABS-CBN television report the Philippine government will blacklist the HK employers who are proven to have driven out and terminated their contracts with their COVID-positive Filipino workers, and even the foreign recruitment agency that brought in the OFWs.
In the same report, Dolores Pelaez, chairperson of the United Filipinos Migrante HK, said more than 20 Filipino household help were dismissed for contracting COVID, the same with Indonesian domestic workers.
On Monday, Senate Labor Committee chairman Senator Joel Villanueva called on the Department of Foreign (DFA), the OWWA and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to immediately attend to the OFWs in Hong Kong who were reportedly laid off after testing positive for COVID-19.
He said the government should be proactive and monitor the news reports.
“Many lives are at stake here. The government should focus on the repatriation of those who will be rendered jobless,” he said.
At the same time, he said, employers who humiliate, mistreat or abandon the workers should be held liable.
Villanueva said a Department of Migrant Workers, which he is pushing, would be read with an immediate and appropriate response to situations such as this.
Villanueva is the sponsor and principal author of the Republic Act 11641 creating the Department of Migrant Workers.
Another politician seeking re-election, Senator Leila M. de Lima, urged authorities to urgently look into reports alleging that some Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong had been fired by their employers after testing positive for COVID-19.
She said they should swiftly investigate the report.
“It is unfortunate to hear reports about our overseas workers, who work day and night to be able to provide better opportunities for their families, being allegedly subjected to unjust treatment,” she said.
“If we really care about our workers abroad, then we cannot just let this issue pass,” she added.
“Many of our OFWs have already endured months or even years away from their loved ones. We should not let them carry any more burden because we refuse to proactively assist them,” she said.
The DOLE said at least 41 OFWs in Hong Kong have been infected with COVID-19 since the surge caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus began.
DOLE International Labor Affairs Bureau (ILAB) director Alice Visperas said in an online press briefing that of the 41 OFWs, two are in the hospital while the rest are staying in quarantine facilities.
She also clarified that they were not terminated from the jobs since most of the infected OFWs finished their contracts and were supposed to return to the Philippines.
“The requirement of the Philippine government is to present a negative result of a COVID-19 test taken 48 hours prior to departure. So, what others do is they would undergo testing in a government facility to save money. While the result is still pending, they would already head to the airport. Once at the airport, it would turn out they are COVID positive,” she said.
Senator Richard J. Gordon on Monday called on the government to take speedy action on the plight of Filipino workers in Hong Kong.
“I am appealing to our government, especially the OWWA, DOLE, and DFA to immediately resolve this problem of our OFWs in Hong Kong,” Gordon said.
He noted that many OFWs in Hong Kong do not have their own rooms and sleep in one corner in the house of their employers.
“If they have COVID-19 symptoms they should self-isolate,” Gordon said. “How can they do it if their employers are scared of being infected so they send them away?”
He suggested the OWWA rent hotel rooms where COVID-positive workers can stay.
“We have to anticipate that many of our fellowmen will get sick. Hong Kong should allocate rooms for our OFWs to serve as quarantine facilities, but if they can’t, OWWA should provide,” Gordon added.
In the House of Representatives, a party-list lawmaker called on the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong to check on the situation of OFWs.
House Assistant Majority Leader and ACT-CIS Rep. Niña Taduran said Administrator Hans Cacdac of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration has assured her office that the government already made the necessary actions to help the OFWs by rescuing some of them and given them shelter and food.
She said Cacdac told her they are also in the process of convincing employers to take the OFWs back in the midst of the surge of the COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong.
“I was told by Administrator Cacdac that there are 41 OFWs who have been found positive with COVID-19 and are already in the hospital or in the isolation areas. Some of them are under the care of non-government organizations. Their cases are not severe, but they need medical attention. I think it’s not enough that they just heed the call of those who ask for their help,” said Taduran.
Taduran also voiced concern over reports that some OFWs were sacked by their employers upon learning that they have COVID-19 symptoms, forcing them to sleep outdoors in the midst of the extremely cold weather.
“I have also heard reports saying that these OFWs get terminated by their employers just because they insist on using their day off. I understand that employers are afraid that their helpers could contract COVID-19 outside. But they cannot deny their right to rest and use their day off, even if these employers offer additional pay and the helpers do not agree to that,” Taduran said.
Under the Employment Ordinance and Standard Employment Contract in Hong Kong, employers cannot terminate an employment contract with an OFW or any foreign domestic helpers who have contracted COVID-19. The employer will be liable to prosecution and a maximum fine of HK$100,000.
Employers could also be charged of violation of the Disability Discrimination Ordinance if they treat the domestic helper less favorably, for example, by dismissing them, because the helper has COVID or has recovered from it.
Reports say that hospitals and facilities in Hong Kong are running out of beds as the COVID-19 cases ballooned to 12,000 last Thursday, breaching the zero COVID policy of the province.