MANILA, September 6, 2003 (STAR) By Mayen Jaymalin  - The Philippine government has filed a protest on the controversial Hong Kong government levy on employers of foreign maids set to be introduced next month.

Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas said Philippine Embassy officials in the former Crown colony have already signified their strong opposition to the new measure, which could affect the wages of the estimated 150,000 Filipino domestic helpers there.

"Our consular office in Hong Kong has already sent (its) protest," Sto. Tomas said in a radio interview.

She said the Philippine government might have difficulty convincing Hong Kong authorities to suspend the imposition of the new levy next month.

"It would be difficult to convince the Hong Kong government to reverse its decision, considering their current economic situation," Sto. Tomas said.

Foreign domestic helpers, Filipinos included, recently suffered a HK$400 cut — an equivalent of 11 percent — on their monthly salary due to an earlier wage policy implemented by the Hong Kong government in its bid to raise more revenue and reduce its ballooning budget deficit, which reached HK$70 billion this year.

The Hong Kong government announced last week that local employers wishing to hire, or renew a contract, with a foreign domestic helper will have to pay a levy of HK$400 (US$51).

Sto. Tomas said Hong Kong will enforce the levy to promote the employment of local workers and curb the high unemployment rate there.

She said the imposition of the levy, as well as the reduction in the minimum wage of foreign domestic helpers implemented earlier, could adversely affect Hong Kong’s economy.

"Our workers spend 45 percent of their salary in Hong Kong and with lower wages they would, of course, be spending less," Sto. Tomas said.

She added that the Philippine government has abandoned the court case they filed against Hong Kong for enforcing the wage cut on foreign domestic helpers.

"The lawyers are asking us to pay HK$84 million and we cannot afford that," Sto. Tomas said.

She added that the Department of Labor and Employment will just pursue the case it filed before the International Labor Organization (ILO), which is set to send a team of investigators to Hong Kong to look into the complaint in connection with the minimum wage cut affecting Filipino domestic helpers there.

A group of foreign domestic helpers have been staging a series of protest actions to dramatize their opposition to the levy on employers of foreign maids.

The Asia Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) urged the government not to go ahead with the levy, describing it as a "double whammy" for foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

Domestic helpers have complained they will effectively be paying it out of their salaries after the government announced their minimum wages would be cut by HK$400 to HK$3,270 a month from April.

"It is taxation of one of the poorest of the poor. Where is justice in that?" said Connie Bragas-Regalado, a spokesperson for AMCB.

Most of Hong Kong’s 240,000 foreign domestic helpers are from the Philippines, with Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal and Sri Lanka also contributing significant numbers.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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