HK court awards damages to maid fired after cancer diagnosis

Philippine domestic worker Baby Jane Allas (centre), a single mother of five who was sacked by her employer after she was diagnosed with cancer, leaving with family members and supporters after a hearing at Hong Kong's labour tribunal yesterday. It o
Philippine domestic worker Baby Jane Allas (centre), a single mother of five who was sacked by her employer after she was diagnosed with cancer, leaving with family members and supporters after a hearing at Hong Kong's labour tribunal yesterday. It ordered her former employer to pay a settlement of HK$30,000 (S$5,200) in damages. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG • A domestic worker who was sacked after a cancer diagnosis has been awarded damages by a Hong Kong court, in a case that highlighted exploitation of foreign women toiling as maids in the wealthy financial hub.

Ms Baby Jane Allas of the Philippines was diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer in January and fired the following month by her employer, who cited the illness as the reason for termination.

The 38-year-old single mother of five instantly lost the right to healthcare and has had to regularly apply for visa extensions as she navigated Hong Kong's legal and immigration systems while battling cancer. She has been undergoing radiation therapy five days a week, along with chemotherapy one day a week.

Ms Allas and her former employer, who was absent from yesterday's proceedings, reached a settlement of HK$30,000 (S$5,200) at Hong Kong's labour tribunal for sickness allowance, medical fees and wages in lieu of notice.

"I am standing here right now to encourage more workers to come out if they have these kinds of cases," Ms Allas said outside the hearing.

Ms Allas added that she hoped to find another employer "who can really understand my situation and treat me well".

She has separately filed claims with the Equal Opportunities Commission for wrongful termination and loss of earnings, which could be brought to the city's District Court.

Ms Allas previously told Agence France-Presse that she spent just over a year working for a family of Pakistani origin who ordered her to work every day of the week.

She has also said she was routinely given stale leftovers to eat and slept on a thin comforter in a cluttered store room.

Nearly 370,000 domestic helpers work in the city. Most are poor women from the Philippines and Indonesia performing menial tasks for low wages while living in often miserable conditions.

Ms Allas was accompanied to yesterday's hearing by supporters and family members, including her eight-year-old daughter, who clung to her waist.

Her plight has generated widespread sympathy in Hong Kong and a fund-raising campaign organised by her sister's employer, Ms Jessica Cutrera, has so far raised more than HK$900,000 for her treatment.

A large part of Ms Allas' medical bills has been covered by hospital charities but expensive surgery will likely be needed to operate on her tumours, said Ms Cutrera.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2019, with the headline 'HK court awards damages to maid fired after cancer diagnosis'. Print Edition | Subscribe