Court ruling threatens foreign helpers' visas

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2006, 12:00am

The issuing of work visas for foreign domestic helpers could be suspended tomorrow - when the Court of Appeal hands down judgment of a judicial review of a pay cut for maids imposed in 2003.

Last night a government spokesman said the Court Registrar had informed them the court would announce the judgment tomorrow and visa issuing might be suspended for the day, 'as the government will require time to consider the implications of the judgment'.

'Unless there is urgency, members of the public are advised to collect the visas on another day,' added the spokesman. 'However, the Immigration Department will continue to accept applications for visas and extensions of stay from foreign domestic helpers as usual.'

A $400 cut in the minimum wage, from $3,670 to $3,270, was imposed on April 1, 2003, at the height of the Sars outbreak.

At the same time, the Chief Executive in Council introduced a $400-a-month levy on employers of foreign domestic helpers.

Five maids - Julita Raza, Erma Geolamin, Soledad Pillas and Rose Marie Pascual, from the Philippines, and Eni Lestari Andayani Adi, from Indonesia - filed an application for a judicial review of the changes.

The plaintiffs believed the levy was an indirect tax on them because of the pay cut.

In April, John Griffiths SC, representing the maids, said it was not 'sheer coincidence' that the Chief Executive in Council imposed the levy on helpers' employers and reduced the helpers' minimum wage by the same amount in 2003.

Their application to the lower court for a judicial review failed. But Mr Griffiths disputed the court's contention that there was no compulsion for maids to pay the levy.

He noted that the judge had taken 'a fallacious approach' in finding that the levy was not a tax because it had not been imposed to raise general revenue for the government and had been imposed on the maids' employers for the benefit of local unskilled workers.

The lawyer added that the levy discriminated between foreign domestic helpers and other low-skilled foreign workers.