Manila, March 10, 2003 -- Philippine Labor officials are set to meet with their counterparts in other labor-sending countries to Hong Kong to discuss the formation of a concerted move to persuade Hong Kong to reverse its decision to cut the current monthly salaries of foreign domestic workers by 11 percent.

This was revealed by Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas after Indonesia was reportedly planning to also suspend its deployment of workers in the former British Crown Colony due to the imposition of the new wage cut policy.

President Arroyo had earlier ordered for a suspension in the deployment of Filipino maids to Hong Kong after authorities there refused to defer the implementation of the HK$400 salary cut which will take effect on April 1.

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

The wage cut effectively offsets a levy of HK$400 a month, which private employers of foreign household help in Hong Kong will have to pay from Oct. 1.

Indonesia and the Philippines provide the bulk of the 240,000-strong foreign domestic work force in Hong Kong.

According to Sto. Tomas, the Philippines, together with other labor-sending countries which earlier formed a coalition to oppose the implementation of the new salary cut policy, will convene in Sri Lanka on April 1 and 2 to take up means to pressure Hong Kong into retracting the controversial order. Sri Lanka is one of the countries planning to stop sending its domestic workers to Hong Kong in protest over the salary slash.

“Labor-sending countries would be meeting in Sri Lanka precisely to take a look into the unjust, discriminatory and oppressive practices of labor accepting or hosting nations,” Sto. Tomas said.

She added that besides the review of the new Hong Kong wage cut policy, the meeting between the six-member countries is part of the condition will also tackle other matters and what would be their unified stand regarding the salary reduction.

“It is time for us to bring this coalition into effect and see to it we don't suffer the same kind of problems that we suffered in the past,” the Labor chief said.

Among the countries that will be attending the scheduled meeting next month are Thailand, Indonesia, India and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Sto. Tomas explained the lifting of the suspension in the deployment of Filipino workers in Hong Kong mainly relies on the developments in the host country.

“The suspension would be lifted the moment we see that there is positive action that is happening (in Hong Kong) and (if) they (Hong Kong authorities) take into consideration the welfare and concern of the workers,” Sto. Tomas said during a press briefing yesterday held at the Edsa Shrine.

Correspondingly, Sto. Tomas stressed that should the Hong Kong government refuse to reconsider its decision, there are still other options which the government is exploring so that domestic workers affected by the new wage cut policy will not be left unemployed and without livelihood.

“We have choices, we have alternatives. And I think that the moment we start thinking that we are powerless in the face of conditions imposed by other countries, that is the day we start disintegrating as a nation. We are not helpless as if we are completely at the mercy of other nations and other people,” Sto. Tomas stressed.

In the meantime, Malacañang explained that a suit set to be filed by the Philippine government against the Hong Kong government over the wage cut order on Filipino domestic workers is itself a form of protest, to officially register Manila's displeasure over the action.

The case is to be filed by Labor officials in coordination with Hong Kong lawyers and a group representing Filipino migrant workers in the former British Colony, presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye yesterday said.

“If we win the case, that would be very good. But the important thing is, this is a way of officially registering our protest on the unfair treatment of our overseas Filipino workers,” Bunye said over local radio.

“What is important is to get our protest across regardless of what happens because we cannot just be silent about this,” he said.

“This is a legal initiative that could help bring back the former condition of our workers.” (By Marie A. Surbano, Tribune)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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