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Philippines to Bar Maids from Working in Hong Kong - 2003-03-05

The Philippine government plans to bar citizens from going to Hong Kong to work as maids in reaction to a Hong Kong government imposed wage cut. But a group representing Philippine migrant workers says the measure will only harm migrants.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced on Wednesday she would temporarily bar citizens from going to work in Hong Kong as household labor. Ms. Arroyo was responding to a Hong Kong government plan to impose a wage cut of $51 on foreign maids, reducing their monthly salary to $419.

Eman Villanueva is the secretary general of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong. He says Philippine migrants do not welcome Ms. Arroyo's decision. "First we are against banning the deployment of domestic helpers here in Hong Kong precisely because it is practically denying the livelihood for Filipinos seeking employment outside the country," he says. "The problem is the government is not doing its work by offering jobs at home."

He adds that if the Philippine government goes through with the ban, Hong Kong households are likely to hire workers from other countries such as Indonesia. Mr. Villanueva thinks the Hong Kong government is unlikely to repeal the wage cut, which goes into effect on April first.

In past weeks, migrant workers in Hong Kong have led street protests against the 11-percent pay cut. Mr. Villanueva argues that the government move is unfair, since it is much bigger than the five percent cut imposed in 1999 and the pay cut Hong Kong civil servants have seen.

Hong Kong lawmakers who support the cut argue that migrants must join the city's other workers, who suffer from wage deflation and a long economic slump.

Many Hong Kong residents, however, oppose the maids' pay cut, saying it discriminates against the poor. They also oppose the government's plan to charge employers a tax when they hire foreign maids.

Ms. Arroyo urged her government to forge a coalition with other countries to protest unfair levies or wage cuts on migrant workers.