Filipino maids have reacted angrily to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's decision yesterday to temporarily ban the export of domestic helpers to Hong Kong. Mrs Arroyo ordered a halt to the approval of contracts in retaliation for the decision to cut maids' pay by $400 a month. The order means that - while the suspension lasts - no contracts for Filipino maids will be approved in Manila or by the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong, which handles 350 new and renewed contracts a day. Maids groups in Hong Kong expressed disbelief at the decision, which could see thousands of them being forced to return to the Philippines. They are expected to protest outside the Philippine consulate today. The action comes a week after Hong Kong announced that employers of foreign domestic helpers will be levied $400 a month from October 1 to generate $1.14 billion for retraining local workers. A corresponding amount will be cut from maids' minimum pay from April 1, the second cut since 1999, bringing it down to $3,270. Mrs Arroyo said she found last week's decision by Hong Kong 'unfair and unjust' and Manila would do everything possible to reverse the 'discriminatory policy'. She also called on other labour-exporting countries to join the Philippines in its protest. Secretary of Labour and Employment Patricia Sto Tomas told the South China Morning Post from Manila yesterday that the ban would last for as long as necessary. 'The president called . . . and after taking a look at the facts . . . her decision is to suspend the processing of contracts,' Ms Sto Tomas said. She said the Hong Kong decision also prompted Manila to review its policy on deployment of Filipino maids worldwide. Philippine Consul-General Victoria Bataclan, who was called back to Manila for emergency consultations, said: 'There was no real engaged dialogue between Hong Kong and the labour-exporting countries before the decision was made.' Economic Development and Labour Secretary Stephen Ip Shu-kwan said yesterday he had not received confirmation of the Philippine move. Labour export policy was purely a matter for the individual countries, he said. Officials from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka will meet next month in Sri Lanka to discuss the Hong Kong issue, sources said last night.