Domestic worker fired after cancer diagnosis dies of kidney infection in Philippines hometown

Filipino domestic worker Baby Jane Allas had her contract wrongfully terminated in 2019 after she was diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer. Photos: Jessica Cutrera
Filipino domestic worker Baby Jane Allas had her contract wrongfully terminated in 2019 after she was diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer. Photos: Jessica Cutrera

A domestic worker who was fired by her employer in 2019 after being diagnosed with cancer has died of a kidney infection in her Philippines hometown.

Baby Jane Allas, 40, had earlier recovered from cervical cancer following urgent chemotherapy and radiation treatment in Hong Kong, and had moved back home to spend time with her family.

“Very sad to report Baby Jane passed away this weekend unexpectedly as a result of a kidney infection,” Jessica Cutrera, who employs her sister and arranged medical care for her, wrote on a Facebook group called Support for Baby Jane Allas. “Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers.”

Baby Jane Allas with her sister, Mary Anne. Photo: Facebook/Support for Baby Jane Allas
Baby Jane Allas with her sister, Mary Anne. Photo: Facebook/Support for Baby Jane Allas

Prior to her death, Cutrera said Allas wanted to return to Hong Kong for work, but was waiting for COVID-19 to pass due to travel restrictions and her own health risks as a recent cancer survivor.

“She was a single mom of five and the only breadwinner for the family. So we are focused on the kids’ needs,” Cutrera told Coconuts, adding that she has arranged a flight for Allas’ sister back to Philippines to attend her funeral.

Allas’ story made headlines two years ago, when her employer—who had abused her by forcing her to work on rest days and refused to grant her time off to see a doctor—abruptly fired her in January 2019 after she informed them that she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer.

She moved in with Cutrera’s family, who took her in and helped her apply for an extended visa so that she could stay in Hong Kong.

A crowdfunding campaign Cutrera started for Allas was met with overwhelming response online, raising over HK$850,000 (US$110,000) used to pay medical expenses and support her family at home.

In April 2019, Cutrera helped Allas’ children obtain their passports to fly to Hong Kong for the first time and spend time with their mother over Easter.

Following successful medical treatment, Cutrera was declared cancer-free later that year. She returned to the Philippines in September to rest, starting a small business there to earn income in the interim with her sights set on eventually returning to Hong Kong for work.

Allas’ story brought renewed attention to the plight of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, who have little protection in the face of abusive employers.

Cutreras heard from her helper, Mary Anne, that her sister’s employer was not giving her adequate food, often allowing her to eat only food that was old or going bad.

On rest days, she was made to clean and walk the dog. She lost 35 pounds (16 kg) due to starvation and illness since moving to Hong Kong in 2017, Cutreras said, and did not receive full wages from her employer.

Allas won HK$30,000 (US$3,860) in damages from her former employer in April 2019, only about a third of the amount she had originally sought for over claims that she was wrongfully dismissed and denied annual leave, weekly rest days, and allowance to return to her home country.

According to local media, the father of her employer, Syed Jamil Raghbi, is a celebrated figure in political circles. A former chairman of the United Muslim Association of Hong Kong, Raghbi has been photographed with several Chief Executives, including Carrie Lam. He was also among the recipients of the Chief Executive’s Commendation for Community Service in 2016.

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