Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) Baby Jane Allas, 38, was diagnosed with cervical cancer early this year while working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong. She was placed on paid medical leave as per the prescription of a government doctor, but now faces the difficult challenge of paying for her medical bills and medication.
On February 17, Allas received a dismissal letter from her employers. She was on her medical leave when she received the notice of her contract’s termination.
This put Allas is a dangerous position. Now without work or employment, Allas can no longer avail of the free medical care that is the right of all residents of the city.
Foreign domestic workers who are fired need to leave Hong Kong within two weeks of termination. Allas, a single mother of five who remits her salary to her children in the Philippines, will have to shoulder the cost of her treatment now that she’s lost access to the state health system.
Allas has filed a complaint against her employers with the Labour Department, claiming that her dismissal while on sick leave is unlawful and a violation of Hong Kong’s Employment Ordinance. She also reported her employers for several contract violations, including failing to provide basic living conditions and necessities, such as a bed. Allas also said her employer failed to give her the mandated one full day off each week.
Allas also said her employers “drastically limited her food”, resulting in a 16 kilo weight loss since her arrival in Hong Kong. Though some of the weight changes could be attributed to her illness, her harsh working conditions were cited as the likely culprit.
As a cancer patient fighting for her life, Allas said the termination was an act of discrimination against a person with disability. She reportedly filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission, citing Hong Kong’s Disability Discrimination Ordinance.
However, Allas’ employers defend their actions saying that they did not knowingly terminate their worker while she was on sick leave.
“She told us later on. She was not fired while she was on sick leave. It was effective from when she finished her sick leave.” said the employer on Friday afternoon. The employer insists that when the dismissal letter was handed to Allas, she had still not made known to her employers that she was on sick leave.
Despite the complaints, the contract termination means that Baby Jane has lost her right to live in Hong Kong and avail of the Hospital Authority System. The ailing OFW will need to fight for her cases against her allegedly abusing employers, but cannot do so without proper medical care.
Jessica Cutrera, a long-time Hong Kong resident who employ’s Allas’ system and provides financial support for the family, says that Allas’ pursuit of fair compensation will be difficult. Currently, Allas is applying for a visa extension to delay her forced departure from Hong Kong. However, even if this is granted, she will not be entitled to government-subsidized health care.
Cutrera has set up an online fundraising page for Allas.
“The Hospital Authority in Hong Kong has recommended an immediate combination of radiation and chemotherapy,” Cutrera said. “We are raising funds to cover the cost of her care in Hong Kong, while she fights her discrimination and wrongful termination claims, continues to provide for her children back home, and to help her children obtain passports to come visit her.”
Allas’ cancer, being of an advanced stage, is difficult to manage. Should she leave for the Philippines, the transitional period of settling in and finding a new care provider through the Philippine government may cost Baby Jane crucial time.
“Even a few weeks or months’ delay to enroll in the government hospital back in the Philippines isn’t an option,” said Cutrera.
Allas first came to Hong Kong in 2017. She worked there until December 2018, when her symptoms were first noticed. Due to her busy schedule and heavy workload, she only saw a doctor on January 20. The physician she consulted with diagnosed her with stage three cervical cancer and granted her sick leave.
More than 300,000 women worldwide die from the disease every year.