A domestic worker sacked after a cancer diagnosis was awarded damages by a Hong Kong court Monday, in a case that highlighted exploitation of foreign women toiling as maids in the wealthy financial hub.
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.
Allas and her former employer — who was absent from Monday’s proceedings — reached a settlement of HK30,000 ($3,800) 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,” Allas said outside the hearing.
Allas added 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.
Allas previously told AFP 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.
Allas was accompanied to Monday’s hearing by supporters and family, including her eight-year-old daughter, who clung to her waist.
Speaking to Coconuts HK via email on Monday, Cutrera said she was “very disappointed that migrant workers like Baby Jane struggle to be heard.” She added that the judge in the hearing had behaved unprofessionally, and was repeatedly “yelling at her and clearly did not prepare for or understand her case.”
She also noted that while Allas was required to attend despite being in treatment for stage III cancer, her employer was able to skip the hearing by claiming she didn’t feel well.
Allas’ sister, Mary Anne Allas, told Coconuts on Monday that while her sister had been “a bit upset at first” with the amount of the settlement, which is likely to cover only a tiny fraction of her medical bills, “she was fine before she left for her treatment.”
A large part of Allas’ medical bills have been covered by hospital charities but expensive surgery will likely be needed to operate on her tumours, said Cutrera.