Helpers wrong target for employment fears

THERE have been lots of stories in the papers about the issues raised by labour unions, legislators and concerned individuals on unemployment and overseas labourers.

They all tend to blame - or use as scapegoats - foreign workers, particularly Filipino domestic workers, as the reason why local workers are unemployed or under-employed.

This letter is an attempt to explain the conditions of Filipino domestic workers in the territory, which those mentioned above did not bother looking into before blaming them for local problems.

One example is the closure of the Mitsukoshi department store in Tsim Sha Tsui due to the tripling of its rent by the building's owners.

Instead of blaming the owners for the decision which cost the sales staff their jobs, they blamed Filipino workers employed in other stores for the sacked workers being unable to get other employment.

Most Filipino domestic helpers working in shops, restaurants and even factories are forced to work there by their employers, in league with Hong Kong-based recruitment agencies, while at the same time doing housework in their employers' flats.

They are forced to sign a sort of side agreement, besides the traditional employment contract, specifically stating the additional and illegal work required of them.

The Government's issuance of the New Conditions of Stay (NCS) in 1987 aggravated domestic helpers' problems. It states that both the employer and employee can terminate their contract earlier than stipulated.

While it sounds fair, in fact domestics are at a disadvantage. Since 1987, more than 20,000 have had their contracts terminated by their employers.

From records collected by the Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers, most contracts were terminated within the first three months of work. There is even one documented case of a domestic whose contract was terminated on the day she arrived because her employers did not like her face.

With regard to the proposal from the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) to seize the ID cards of maids once their contract is terminated, why pick on the most vulnerable sector? Isn't this a form of discrimination? The FTU should seriously take into consideration that domestic employees are workers just like them. In the first place, the proposal is unnecessary. Employers could easily verify through the Immigration Department whether the worker has a valid permit or not.

The unions and certain legislators are barking up the wrong tree. Instead of putting the blame on domestic helpers - who are in a disadvantaged position - there should be laws and regulations to protect both migrant workers as well as local workers.

AURELIO ESTRADA Asia Pacific Mission for Migrant Filipinos