Overruling of Hong Kong landmark case sets dangerous precedent for OFWs

Migrante Sectoral Party expressed deep disappointment over the Hong Kong High Court’s overruling of the landmark case won by Filipina domestic worker Evangeline Banao Vallejos last year.

Vallejos, in September, won her case against her employer when the High Court declared as “unconstitutional” the exclusion of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) from a rule allowing migrants to settle in the city after seven years of stay.

The Hong Kong government appealed the ruling, saying that it would set a precedent for more than 125,000 FDWs in Hong Kong and make them eligible to apply for abode.  The case raised questions and debates on the rights of FDWs in Hong Kong who hail mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia. There are approximately 150,000 Filipino FDWs in Hong Kong.

For Migrante Sectoral Party President Connie Bragas-Regalado, however, the Hong Kong government’s argument sets a dangerous precedent. “It is unfair to FDWs in particular and migrants in general. We fear that the High Court’s overturning of the ruling will legalize discrimination against migrants and intensify the social exclusion of FDWs from social services that they are entitled to.”

Because of the ruling, all applicants for residency are on hold pending final judgment from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeals (CFA). Vallejos is set to file an appeal before the CFA. “UNIFIL-Migrante in Hong Kong and Migrante International will support her appeal.”

Bragas-Regalado also said that it is “most disturbing” that the latest ruling comes after the adoption of the ILO (International Labor Organization) Convention on Domestic Work by the Committee on Domestic Workers which recognizes domestic work as work and bestows upon domestic workers equal rights and recognition as other workers.

“Right of abode is only one issue that is affected by this recent development. More importantly, the Hong Kong ruling brings to the core how rights of FDWs are being upheld and protected. For instance, FDWs in Hong Kong are excluded in the minimum wage law, live-in arrangements are mandatory, and they receive no pension or retirement schemes. The ruling also reinforces the policy forcing FDWs to leave within two weeks of contract termination. All these run counter with what is stated in the ILO Convention,” she said.

Bragas-Regalado said that “Hong Kong is just the tip of the iceberg.”

“There is a growing trend of anti-migrant sentiments around the world because of the worsening global economic crisis. The tendency is to pit migrants against nationals and this is unfair. Migrants and migrant workers contribute as much to their host countries’ economies and social structure as nationals. There should be no discrimination.”

Bragas-Regalado said that the Hong Kong ruling should serve as a wake-up call to the Philippine government.

“For as long as the Philippine government fails to generate jobs at home, in this time of severe economic crisis, OFWs abroad will inevitably bear the brunt of discrimination and economic protectionism policies. So while we appeal to the Hong Kong government to be level-headed and consider the repercussions of their appeal, we also demand from the Philippine government a review of its labor export policy in light of the global economic crisis.”###