Hong Kong domestic workers leave homeless after being fired for incurring Covid-19 | Hong Kong

Hong Kong domestic workers leave homeless after being fired for incurring Covid-19 | Hong Kong

Home helpers live in Hong Kong have become homeless after being diagnosed with Covid-19 and their employers fired them or denied their return to the home, support groups have said.

Many of the workers, who are mostly women from Indonesia and the Philippines, were also left without insurance to cover their medical bills.

Hong Kong is in the midst of its worst outbreak ever with the Omicron variant infecting thousands of people a day, overwhelming hospitals and public isolation facilities.

The problem is exacerbated by strict policies of mandatory isolation for patients and close contacts, where tens of thousands of people can not find housing.

Instead, they have been told to isolate themselves at home, but in the case of dozens of domestic workers, their employers have refused to let them go.

An estimated 390,000 domestic workers in Hong Kong work six days a week for at least HK $ 4630 (US $ 593) a month plus food and board. They are legally obliged to live with their employers and it is illegal to isolate other places than public facilities or hospitals.

Maria *, a maid from the Philippines, tested positive for a rapid antigen test. She said her employer gave her three options – pay for her own stay at a quarantine hotel for two weeks, go to the hospital and “tell them I’m very sick”, or have her contract terminated.

“I went to the hospital in the morning, but there were so many patients that I was done by 6 o’clock in the evening,” she said. “My employer told me I could not come back to their house because I was dangerous and I was afraid I would transmit the virus.”

Stranded at midnight, Maria’s friends contacted an NGO, HELP For Domestic Workers, who found her a place in a shelter. Other workers have been forced to sleep in parks, at crossings or outside hospitals.

HELP said they helped more than 100 workers who had become homeless, including at least a dozen who were fired or ordered not to return home.

On Tuesday, the Philippine consul in the city of Hong Kong accused residents of firing and throwing their workers out of illegal and “immoral” acts.

“If it can be proven that they were asked to leave because of their illness, this could be considered an illegal dismissal under the Hong Kong Employment Order,” Raly Tejada said, adding that the mission helped more than 60 people.

“We are also proactively engaging employers to explain to them that it is not only illegal to fire their employees in these difficult times, especially when they are positive. It is immoral.”

Manisha Wijesinghe, CEO of HELP, said many employers feared they and their families could become ill or be sent to quarantine facilities as close contacts to the sick worker.

“I do not think there is an evil intention there. It is really the fear that is driving everyone at the moment,” she said.

But leaving the women homeless, some for up to three or four nights in Hong Kong’s winter, was “unsustainable”.

Wijesinghe urged Hong Kong residents to provide support to their home helpers who became ill.

Foreign domestic workers gather in the Admiralty on their one day off per week.  Due to social distance rules, many foreign workers were careful to limit their groups to two as they protected from the cold and rain.
Foreign domestic workers gather in the Admiralty on their one day off a week. Due to social distance rules, many foreign workers were careful to limit their groups to two as they protected from the cold and rain. Photo: Ben Marans / SOPA Images / REX / Shutterstock

“We understand that it is a scary time and everyone is worried about their own safety, their children and the safety of the family, but the thing is that the home helper is also part of the family. They are the ones who take care of you. daily basis, ”she said.

According to HELP and other NGOs, most cases of stranded workers are individuals who were tested positive before a plane home and were denied boarding.

Mai * said she slept in a tent after being tested positive before her flight to the Philippines and that she was refused to return to the boarding house where she had lived.

“They gave me a tent and a thick blanket so I wouldn’t get cold. I slept all night outside the boarding house, ”she said. May has since moved to a shelter, but NGOs say the facilities, which usually house people between jobs or wait for flights home, are ill-equipped to isolate Covid patients as well.

The government has said it is coordinating with consulates to provide assistance to workers who lost jobs and is looking for alternative housing.

Maria said she hopes to return to her job because she has three children to support but will be looking for new employers.

“I do not know if I will get sick again if it happens again. If they do this to me again, I do not think I should return to them, ”she said

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