MANILA, January 3, 2003 (STAR)  Sen. Teresa Aquino-Oreta urged Malacañang yesterday to include a comprehensive re-integration plan for Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong, who may be displaced by the imposition of the proposed HK$500 levy on foreign maids, in its program for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

This plan, she said, should include skills re-training programs to help Filipino workers meet the new demands of overseas employment and livelihood assistance programs for those who prefer to return home for good.

Oreta said that the re-integration program is not only for Filipino workers in Hong Kong but also for thousands of OFWs who may face "similar oppressive measures in the face of the global economic slump."

The planned tax on foreign domestic workers is expected to generate HK$1.5 billion for the Hong Kong government and is meant to address its ballooning budget deficit now estimated to amount to HK$7 billion.

This would, however, cut the maids’ salaries by as much as 15 percent per month.

Senate President Franklin Drilon expressed optimism, though, that Hong Kong authorities would heed the appeal of the Philippine government to shelve the proposed tax imposition on domestic workers.

He said President Arroyo has already written Hong Kong’s leaders expressing her concern on the possible implications of the move.

"A policy announcement on the levy, I understand, will be made by the Hong Kong government on Jan. 8," Drilon said.

The Senate president has just returned from Hong Kong, where he discussed the plight of the Filipino maids with Philippine consul-general Vicky Bataclan, labor attaché Bernie Julve and Hong Kong Labor Secretary Stephen Ip.

Drilon admits that the proposed levy is discriminatory because other workers would not be similarly taxed. He said he would file a resolution in the Senate that domestic workers should not be used to solve Hong Kong’s budgetary problems.

"We have budgetary problems in our country, but if you recall in the last Congress, we exempted from taxes the income of our overseas workers," he stressed.

But he said this issue should not be used to stop the processing of papers of maids bound for Hong Kong.

"I am not exactly in favor of that, because if there is a need for the services of our workers in Hong Kong, since it is a free market economy, Hong Kong employers will simply look from other sources," he explained.

"We just have to work on the non-implementation of this policy, and if it is indeed implemented, we should work for measures either to reverse it or to put it back where it was before," Drilon said. – Sammy Santos

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