Manila, March 9, 2003 -- President Arroyo yesterday vowed to sue the Hong Kong government in Hong Kong courts over the wage cuts imposed on Filipino domestic workers there.

"We will not only bring our case to the ILO (International Labor Organization), but also to the Hong Kong courts themselves. We will sue the Hong Kong government in the Hong Kong courts," Mrs. Arroyo, in a speech marking International Women's Day, said.

But Labor Undersecretary Manuel Imson made clear that the Philippine government has no right to elevate the Hong Kong wage cut problem of Filipino maids to the ILO, which contravened the earlier pronouncement by his boss, Patricia Sto. Tomas.

Last week, the Labor secretary said the government is ready to raise the issue to the ILO should China's Special Administrative Region authorities renege on its promise not to impose levy on the monthly pay of foreign domestic helpers with existing contracts.

According to Imson, the Philippine government is not permitted to lodge any complaint or question the policies of another country since there are parameters on the extent each member-country of the ILO can elevate a certain case or problem.

"The government cannot do the filing of the complaint because of some rules in the ILO and it ought to be done by the workers," Imson told reporters.

Mrs. Arroyo said the filing of the case against the former British Crown Colony could prove effective, remarking "sometimes, the Hong Kong government loses cases in court." She, however, did not say on what basis her government would file the case against the Hong Kong government.

At the same time, Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong also yesterday demanded Mrs. Arroyo to fire Sto. Tomas for slapping a ban on Filipina maids from entering the city.

The Chief Executive last Wednesday barred the sending of Filipina maids to Hong Kong until further notice after the territory ignored her appeals and cut the minimum wage for foreign maids.

She defended her decision, saying this had added weight to the campaign there to halt the wage cuts.

Mrs. Arroyo remarked both the Philippines and Indonesia had stopped sending maids to Hong Kong and that Sri Lanka was thinking of joining them.

Since the three countries account for the bulk of foreign domestic workers there, this has led to more pressure to leave the salaries of foreign maids unchanged.

"This is recognition that a levy (on the maids) however disguised, is unfair and discriminatory," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Unifil), however, blasted her declaration for causing "anxiety and confusion" among those maids who were currently having their contracts processed or renewing contracts in the next few weeks.

"The anxiety that (President) Arroyo's announcement made is unpardonable. We even got a call from a migrant who was already in the Philippine airport and was being stopped from going to Hong Kong," Connie Bragas-Regalado, Unifil spokesman, said.

Faced with a growing budget deficit, Hong Kong said last month it would cut the minimum allowable wage for foreign domestic helpers and impose a levy on employers of foreign household help.

A maid's minimum wage is to be reduced by HK$400, or $51 a month to HK$3,270 for employment contracts signed on or after April 1.

The wage cut effectively offsets a monthly levy of HK$400 payable by private employers of foreign household help from Oct. 1.

Last Thursday, Sto. Tomas suggested the ban could be lifted after two months. Bragas-Regalado, however, demanded the ban be lifted immediately. (Tribune)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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