Maids' bosses in sick-pay dilemma

Top News | Stella Wong and Phoenix Un 16 Apr 2019

Employers of sick domestic helpers are at a loss to understand their commitments following yesterday's Labour Tribunal ruling that awarded a Filipina suffering from cancer HK$30,000.

Baby Jane Allas, 38, had sought more than HK$46,000. Now she hopes to sue the former employer for violating the discrimination ordinance through the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Employment agencies said that, although it would pose difficulties to employers, under no circumstances - even during the no-pay period - should they fire the helper as this would be breaking the law.

This advice followed the principal magistrate's comment that the employer should re-employ the maid without pay so she could use public health-care services.

Principal presiding officer Eric Tam Lee-cheung suggested Jamil hire Allas again, so she could use public health-care services as a Hong Kong citizen.

"You will not pay her salary. After she recovers, you can decide whether to terminate her employment or not," Tam said.

But the family rejected the suggestion.

The employer said the reason for her dismissal was because of her diagnosis.

Jamil did not appear at the Labour Tribunal hearing yesterday as she is pregnant.

Her brother-in-law said the family sympathized with Allas' diagnosis. They terminated the contract as Jamil was pregnant and her father was also ill.

He said the family could not contact Allas after she fell sick, and then the allegations suddenly appeared.

Foreign domestic helpers need to leave Hong Kong within two weeks after the termination of employment contract.

The authorities extended Allas' visa to May 15.

Lawmaker Michael Luk Chung-hung from the Federation of Trade Unions said an employer cannot fire the employee on his paid or no-pay sickness day, except in cases of summary dismissal due to an employee's serious misconduct.

Under current laws, an employer faces a maximum fine of HK$100,000 for breach of this law.

Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of Technic Employment Service Centre, said employers also suffer while helpers are on sick leave.

"Domestic helper are often seen as a disadvantaged group in society who need help. But who helps the family to take care of chores?

"If the couple both have full-time work, do they need to resign to take care of the kids?" she said.

Liu said it is difficult to employ an extra domestic helper while giving sick leave to the original helper.

With one helper under employment, the employer would need to give reasons and proof that they had sufficient financial ability and a house big enough for the extra helper.

The leader of the Liberal Party, Felix Chung Kwok-pan, said it was true that employers should not make sick domestic helpers work, but said employers would also suffer as they would need helpers for their family.

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