SHOULD THERE BE DIFFERENT WORK QUALIFICATIONS AND PAY LEVELS FOR FILIPINO DOMESTIC HELPERS IN HONG KONG?

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Labor Attache to Hong Kong Jalilo Dela Torre floated this great idea in his Facebook post yesterday and it for obvious reasons, it immediately drew support from mostly OFWs in this city.

Dela Torre said the idea was suggested to him by an owner of an employment agency – for Pinay helpers in Hong Kong to be classified according to skills and competencies, qualifications and years of experience. This proposal certainly makes lots of sense and it should certainly be pursued – if possible and workable. Those who are better qualified than others should get higher pay. This principle applies to almost every profession – a more experienced carpenter, driver, salesman, call center professional, engineer, lawyer, doctor, etc. can charge higher fees than inexperienced professionals, and customers understand this very well.

But just like many other great ideas or proposals, the devil, so to speak, is in the detail. Who will undertake the classification system? Will this classification be credible or acceptable to employers? Who will manage the database of OFWs who wish to join this classification scheme?

Will employers automatically agree to pay beyond the minimum monthly salary simply because one OFW is more than qualified than others? After all, employers are not obligated under the law to pay beyond the minimum. But scores pay more depending on their own initiative. Will this classification system be undertaken by the Hong Kong government? Very unlikely, in my view. Like it or not, I doubt if the Hong Kong government will see any compelling reason to get involved in this initiative.

Will the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), headed by Dela Torre, undertake this proposed scheme? I also doubt it, especially with the limited manpower that he has and mountains of work that his team tackles everyday.

So, is this grand proposal dead in the water in the first instance? Not exactly. This writer never tires to look for opportunities even amid adversities. So, let’s tackle the challenges one at a time.

WHO WILL SET UP AND MANAGE CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM? Dela Torre’s team! But his team is understaffed and overworked? No problem. Offer an incentive scheme! A POLO staff who spends an hour or two on a Sunday gets paid HK$100 (about 600 pesos) or HK$150 for extra work of intensive interview of registry applicant and data entry. It’s always best for government employees to earn extra, especially while at work. Will the incoming new Labor secretary object to this incentive scheme? Probably not. Silvestro Bello is progressive-minded and I’m sure that he will see the merits of an incentive scheme for POLO staff if it can eventually lead to the eventual formation of a classification system that will upgrade salaries of Filipino domestics in Hong Kong.

WHAT ARE THE IMMEDIATE BENEFITS OF A CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM? It will immediately identify the best OFWs in Hong Kong and help them get better compensation beyond the minimum monthly salary prescribed by Hong Kong law. If employers in Hong Kong will see value for money in an easier search of the most qualified Filipino helpers, they are likely to pay more than the monthly minimum salary prescribed by the Hong Kong government.

WHERE WILL FUNDS COME FROM FOR THE INITIAL CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM? From OFWs who stand to benefit by joining the classification system. OFWs in general should throw out the window their dole-out or free service mentality. Even if the Hong Kong government is one of the richest in the world, it still charges fees for its services. In contrast, the Philippine government is one of the poorest. So, how can a poor government give out free services all the time? Besides, a nominal one-off fee of HK$30 or HK$50 for a service that can mean getting HK$200 or HK$500 more in monthly salary for a highly-skilled OFW is well worth it. So, if OFWs will recognize great value in joining a POLO-managed registry system, I’m sure they’ll be glad and willing to pay even a one-off HK$50 registration fee.

WHAT KIND OF SYSTEM NOW? A simple Excel file to be updated on a weekly basis as names get entered. This Excel file can then be posted in POLO’s Facebook pages.

WHAT KIND OF SYSTEM LATER? If registrants can be made to pay a one-off HK$50 registration fee, enough funds can be built to hire a web development firm in Manila to set up a proper database that both employers and OFWs in Hong Kong can view anytime in their mobile phones or PCs.

WILL THIS INITIAL CLASSIFICATION SCHEME BE CREDIBLE? As this classification scheme is run by POLO, the Philippines’ labor department, it will immediately establish its credibility. However, POLO staff should do proper and meticulous interviews of registry applicants to ensure selection of the most highly qualified. With their frontline experience, POLO staff have no excuse to fall for empty but incredible claims of being exceptional in their work. Sad to say, scores of OFWs in Hong Kong may be working here for 5 or more years, but hardly bothered excelling in different areas in their field of work. Identifying which ones are honest, trustworthy and dedicated to their work and which ones are not is another key area that this registry should take into account.

WILL EMPLOYERS PAY MORE FOR HIGHLY-SKILLED HELPERS? Yes, why not. All companies whether in Hong Kong, the Philippines, elsewhere in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America always pay a premium or extra for people with specialized skills. So, this is no different for domestic helpers.

WHAT ARE THE MEDIUM- TO LONG-TERM BENEFITS OF A CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM? Immense! If a classification system – to be started by Dela Torre’s team – becomes successful, this means most OFWs in Hong Kong need no longer depend on the salary increases prescribed by the Hong Kong government almost every year. That increase only amounts to HK$50 or a bit more and is a source of great frustration, especially for those who had been working here for 5, 10 or more years. Foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong now receive a monthly minimum salary of HK$4,210 or about 25,000 pesos net. With Hong Kong-government prescribed increases of an average of HK$100 a year, it is safe to think that it will take 5 or more years before the minimum salary reaches HK$5,000. But why can’t highly-skilled domestic helpers be rewarded for striving for excellence at work? If senior or veteran mechanics, drivers, lawyers and doctors are paid more in Manila, Hong Kong and elsewhere, why can’t this simple but world-practiced principle apply to Pinay domestic helpers in Hong Kong, and eventually in other countries?

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For more issues about Filipinos in Hong Kong, please visit this Facebook page — Pinoy Life on RTHK. This is also a Hong Kong-based redio program aired every Sunday afternoon at 4-6pm and can be heard live using mobile phones

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