Sunday, October 09, 2011

Philippine Immigrant Maid Wins Landmark Hong Kong Case

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Photo: Banyar Kong Janoi

Download Hong Kong's High Court has ruled that a domestic helper from the Philippines should be allowed to apply for permanent residency in the city.

The case was brought by Evangeline Banao Vallejos, who has worked to for the same Hong Kong employer for more than 25 years.

The ruling could lead to more than 100,000 other foreign maids winning rights to residency.
Banyar Kong Janoi takes a look at why the case is so import to the lives of thousands of people.

A group of Filipinos play games, while others watch a culture performance in Victoria Park.
It’s 43 years old Minda only day off. She comes here to forget about work.

“I sleep in the toilet because they don’t give me a room. They put the bed there.”
She says if lunch was three minutes late her boss would get so angry she threw a fork at her.

“She said the water is dirty, I said it is dirty because I’ve cleaned the floor already. So she is angry she gets a bottle of water and throws it to me. I was scare so I called the police.”

She had two weeks to find another employer or she would have had to leave Hong Kong.

“I found another employer but still crazy. You see I have a mark because she hurt me on Monday night. She said I didn’t properly wipe up her daughter because I was taking a bath to her daughter. I didn’t finish to wide her body yet and than she come and peel her, and it is still wet. She gets the towel.”

And she beat Minda. She shows me the red marks on her arm.
In one high profile case a domestic worker from Indonesia had a hot iron placed on her neck by her employer.

“Foreign domestic worker if we complain our abuse, we immediately we lose our job.”
Eman Villanueva is the secretary General of United Filipinos in Hong Kong. They advocate for greater rights for domestic workers.

“So in our case, it will difficult to complain because that would mean losing your job; that would be going back home and that would be no job for me. It is not easy. Especially, if I have my family; I am supporting my children to go to school; if I am paying some debts, that is not acceptable. So I will rather keep silent; I will rather not complain even I am being abused as long as I can bear the abuses. Because of the absence of permanent residency for foreign domestic workers, we become very vulnerable to abuses and exploitation.”

If you live in Hong Kong for more than seven years legally you have the right to become a permanent resident.

But until now, not if you are a foreign domestic worker. This week’s landmark court decision that a Filipino domestic workers can apply for residency changes that.
There are more than 300,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines.

It is thought that around thousand have lived here for more than seven years and now could potentially also apply for residency.

The case has sparked a great deal of debate in Hong Kong.
Some people are worried that their jobs will be taken if more foreign workers are allowed to stay.
The government has argued that it will create a burden on social welfare because workers will bring in relatives and children.

But Eman says that is not true.
“It is superficial. It a made-up belief. For example, they said that once we get the permanent residency half of million people will come. That is the exactly what happened in case of Mainland Chinese. 12 years ago, the Hong Kong government also said the same thing. Because of the court ruling favouring Mainland children, they said 1.67 million Mainland Chinese will come to Hong Kong in span of ten years. Now 12 years after, there is only eight thousand of them who came.”

Back in Victoria Park where domestic workers come to relax on their day off...women say even if they were given permanent residency they wouldn’t want to stay.

“No, I don’t interested because the cost of living in Hong Kong is very high. So if stay out we need to pay for the house, we need to pay our own food and daily affair. I think working in the same employer and without taking permanent residence is okay.”

For them this court decision is not so much about living in Hong Kong, but it is about having the legal power to stand-up for rights at work and having the option to stay.

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