Hong Kong’s Filipino domestic workers have been hit with another mandatory fee by their home government, a week after vowing to fight against a plan to make domestic helpers take out insurance costing HK$1,200 (US$153) before heading abroad.
Under a bill passed last week by the Philippine legislature, the helpers would be required to pay about 2,400 Philippine pesos, or about HK$350 a month, for social insurance that provides retirement and health benefits through the country’s Social Security System (SSS) from next year. The amount is equivalent to 8 per cent of a helper’s wage of HK$4,520 a month.
The bill, which is expected to be signed into law later this year by Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, also requires all departing overseas Filipino workers to pay at least three monthly contributions before they can leave for their job destinations. Prior to the bill, departing workers could opt out of paying for SSS membership.
Last week, Filipino workers’ groups in Hong Kong vowed to fight tooth and nail against a plan by Manila’s Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to make domestic helpers take out insurance.
The twin fees come on top of a slew of existing charges totalling about 26,000 pesos (about HK$3,800) that helpers must pay to government agencies before they can even take up jobs abroad, said chairwoman of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, Dolores Balladares-Pelaez.
“It’s a big concern among overseas Filipino workers. It is outrageous and worrying that workers will pay for the new exactions,” she said, adding that the group was consulting lawyers on possibly filing a temporary restraining order against the SSS bill.
Balladares-Pelaez said a few members of Unifil had told her they had been forced to pay the new fees despite Manila saying the fees could not be enforced before relevant rules are drawn up.
“We have members who have changed employers and could not get an Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) unless they pay the POEA insurance premium and SSS fee,” she said.
You already pay so much to the recruitment agency so the workers will sink further into debt
Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, United Filipinos in Hong Kong
The OEC, also known as the “exit pass”, must be presented at international ports of exit in the Philippines as proof that the holder is a bona fide overseas Filipino worker.
Balladares-Pelaez said workers are already being burdened with “a long list of fees that they need to pay before they can leave [for overseas work] – for the Pag-Ibig home development mutual fund, training fees, assessment and medical tests”.
“The payments are too much and then you don’t have job security when you come to Hong Kong as you can lose your job at any time,” she added. “You already pay so much to the recruitment agency so the workers will sink further into debt.”
Recruitment agencies collect from 80,000 to 150,000 pesos from domestic workers desperate for higher paying jobs in Hong Kong, she said.
About 20 members of Unifil held a small protest at the Philippine consulate in Admiralty on Thursday against the new fees.
“We did not want to wait any longer, as we are already paying so much in fees and we had to quickly register our opposition against them,” Balladares-Pelaez said.
Unifil also plans to launch a petition against the new fees, hoping to gather the signatures of 20,000 workers. The petition will be submitted to the consulate, the Philippine president, and the heads of POEA and SSS, she said.
Hong Kong’s 380,000 foreign domestic workers, more than half of whom are from the Philippines, were given a 2.5 per cent ray rise in August this year, amounting to HK$110 per month.