RP NOT SUING OVER HK PAYCUTS

Hong Kong, March 16, 2003 -- A week after President Arroyo vowed to take legal action against Hong Kong over a pay cut for foreign maids, a top Philippine diplomat here said yesterday the government has changed its mind.

"The Philippine government is not suing," said Consul General Victoria Bataclan.

Instead, Bataclan said, the government will leave it to the workers themselves to seek legal recourse, but will offer them financial assistance.

The temporary ban on sending new Filipino maids to Hong Kong is still in place, she said.

Earlier reports said the Philippines has already formed a team of lawyers to prepare the lawsuit against Hong Kong over the wage cuts.

Bataclan has said the lawyers would file the case next week seeking to freeze the imposition of HK$400 ($51) monthly wage cut for foreign maids in the former British colony beginning April 1.

She said the suit to be filed would question the validity of the wage cut and the levy that is going to be imposed.

Hong Kong decided earlier this month to reduce the minimum wage for foreign maids to help alleviate the territory's budget problems.

This prompted Mrs. Arroyo to suspend the deployment of Filipina maids to Hong Kong, saying the wage cuts were unfair and could unduly affect Philippine economy.

The cut would bring the average monthly wage of foreign maids down to HK$3,270 a month ($420). It effectively offsets a levy of HK$400 ($51) to be imposed on private employers of foreign household help by October.

In Manila, Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas said the other day the Philippine government will seek a court injunction to stop the impending cut.

She said labor officials and the Philippine embassy in Hong Kong are now coordinating with 43 human rights lawyers in the former British colony for the filing of the petition for injunction.

Sto. Tomas said the lawyers are also eyeing the possibility of questioning the legality of the wage cut order.

"All these (cases) are possibilities that the Philippine government is looking into and we are hoping that Hong Kong authorities would see the reasonableness of our position and retract the wage cut," Sto. Tomas said.

The Philippines supplies about 64 percent of the estimated 240,000-strong foreign domestic work force in Hong Kong, followed by Indonesia and Thailand.

Remittances by these workers have traditionally helped prop up the Philippine economy, which has been in the doldrums since the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Following the wage cut announcement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople made a formal request for the Chinese government to intervene in Hong Kong's pending imposition of the wage cut.

But Chinese ambassador Wang Chun Gui gave no commitment to Ople's request.

He said the Chinese government can only convey the request of Ople to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in connection with the wage cut.

Wang stressed China and Hong Kong are observing a "one government, two policy system."

"We can only convey the Philippine government's concerns. But there is no commitment," he said.

Wang said the imposition of the wage cut on Filipino domestic helpers should not affect the relations of the Philippines and the Chinese government.

"We don't see any impact on the relations of the Philippines and the People's Republic of China. It is a special matter. It should not affect the relations of the two governments," Wang said. (Star)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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