Filipino migrants welcome Ip’s apology, call for better treatment

Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Filipino migrant workers accepted the apology of Hong Kong’s legislative council member, Regina Ip, for her controversial comments on Filipino domestic workers. They also wanted improvements in their conditions and better treatment of all migrant workers here.

GABRIELA Hong Kong, United Filipinos in Hong Kong and BAYAN Hong Kong and Macau said they hope that Ip should avoid discrimination in her speech and writing, in a statement Friday. She shall, instead, “promote the rights of migrants and build a just and inclusive Hong Kong,” they added.

On the same day, Ip issued an apology statement, saying that she did not make the sexist or racist accusations in her article published in Chinese-language newspaper, Ming Pao, on April 17.

She wrote about complaints that she had received from foreign women here against Filipina domestic workers “seducing” their husbands.

She concluded her article by saying, “Beside discussing about the inappropriate behaviors of employers, should foreign media cover more stories of the issues about these Filipino domestic helpers becoming the sex resources of Hong Kong’s male expats?”

The article was posted on her Facebook page and blog that was later removed as reactions sparked, including from the Filipino community.

The sole purpose of the article, she said, “was to raise a question as to whether there is a widespread exploitation of Filipino maids in Hong Kong and to express my concern.”

Ip’s statement followed a protest rally of Filipino groups outside her office on Thursday. The Philippine Consulate General expressed concern over Ip’s “unfortunate choice of words,” adding that it did not reflect the public sentiments, in a statement on April 20.

Hoping that the incident will not happen again, the Filipino groups also challenged Ip to make sure that her apology would reach the broadest number of Hong Kong people.

The groups also wanted the Hong Kong government to enact laws upholding rights of migrant “as women and as workers” and reform policies that “put migrant domestic workers in a condition vulnerable to abuses and discriminatory practices.”

The city has over 173,000 Filipino domestic workers, receiving a monthly salary of 4,110 Hong Kong dollars ($530).

The Hong Kong government requires them to live and work only in their employers’ residences, making them vulnerable for long hours of work and domestic violence and abuse, according to Mission for Migrant Workers.

The Filipino community also call for strong implementation of anti-discrimination ordinances and for multiculturalism education to be “more extensive and intensive.”

They will pursue their planned action on April 26 in Central to echo the “message of non-discrimination and social inclusion throughout Hong Kong.

HK labor unions say new minimum wage ‘unreasonable’

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — Labor leaders were dissatisfied with the city’s new statutory minimum wage rate at 32.50 Hong Kong dollars an hour, effective on May 1. They vowed to continue their fight for workers’ welfare.

The minimum wage is “unreasonable, especially if the worker is a breadwinner,” Wong Pit-man, head secretary of the Eating Establishment Employees General Union, said last Saturday.

It is short by HK$7.2 from the proposal (HK$39.7/hour) of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, Ip Wai Ming, its deputy director, said Thursday.

Both labor leaders said the minimum wage is barely for survival, “while the government thinks it is enough for one person.”

The federation has its formula in computing the minimum wage to catch up with the inflation rate for a worker and a dependent to afford a standard living.

Since the government began implementing the statutory minimum wage policy in 2011, the HKFTU proposed an increase of minimum hourly rate to HK$33 from HK$28. In 2013, it was raised to HK$30 per hour.

For establishment owners such as M. Aslam, director of the Family Provision and Fast Food Co., HK$32.5 an hour is “still not enough,” considering the high prices of commodities and housing rent.

“No one will want the job. It’s good if it’s HK$40 (an hour),” said Lam, a regular employee of grocery chain, Wellcome, in Kowloon.

HKFTU Ip Wai Ming PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Ip Wai Ming, deputy director of Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, says workers are unhappy with the new minimum wage on Feb. 5 in Kowloon. PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro

On the contrary, the minimum wage increase “will benefit tens of thousands of low-income employees and encourage more people to join the labor market,” Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in his policy address in January.

Hong Kong’s total working population rose to 3.92 million as of 2014 from 3.86 million in 2013, according to government statistical data.

“Just surviving,” minimum wage earners comprise 10 percent of the total number of workers in 2013 after the minimum wage rise, Ip said.

Most of them are cleaners, security guards and health care givers. One-third of them work part time, especially in catering industries, he cited.

Despite the enforcement of statutory minimum wage rate, Wong said workers in the Chinese catering sector only had 2 percent increase of average salary over the past decade.

A large number of workers out of some 8,500 members of EEEGU are underpaid, he said, having long working hours and poor working conditions.

He cited that pantry delivery and cleaning workers have an average salary of HK$8,000 to HK$9,000, dishwashers HK$10,000, waiters/waitress HK$11,000, and Chinese chef HK$18,000.

Meanwhile, not many employers would dare to pay below minimum wage as most citizens are familiar with the labor laws, Ip said. Majority of underpaid workers are immigrants, who are hired for constructions, banquets, and other informal jobs by unregistered agents, he added.

Seeking for higher wages and improvement of working conditions of underpaid workers, the EEEGU had lobbied their concerns to the labor and welfare department. They had also organized meetings with local news reporters to inform the public of their gathered data and cases, Wong said.

For instance, he said, some employers attempted to cut headcounts as an excuse from the minimum wage increase, or cutting paid meal breaks in order to conform with the new wage requirements.

While convincing its members in the government to yield to their demands, the federation will also take it to the streets, Ip said.

Some 5,000 workers will join a mass demonstration on May 1 to push for their proposed minimum wage increase, among other demands, Ip said.

Silent protest in a university

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

The corridor outside Jockey Club School of Chinese Medicine Building at Hong Kong Baptist University was empty on a Saturday afternoon. White bond papers with pictures and slogans covered portions of its brick wall. A big poster said in English, “Umbrella Revolution” with a stick drawing of an umbrella beside ’N’.

A gust of autumn wind dragged a few posters to the floor, blowing them back and forth and lifting them a few inches from the tiled floor.

Later, a student, carrying a laundry bag, passed through the corridor. Some papers and dried leaves made crisps beneath her shoes. She glanced at the posters and took a photo of the caricature. It was composed of a man in a face mask, pointing a gun to another, whose hands are above his head.

Adjacent to the corridor was a small lawn planted to a handful of trees. With a baby in her arms, a woman was standing at a corner, and watching a little girl pick up something from the gutter.

Their backdrop was a hanging black cloth with painted Chinese characters, saying that fake suffrage is drinking poison to quench thirst.

HKBU protest posters by Lorie Ann Cascaro
Posters on brick wall at HKBU
CY Leung with horns by Lorie Ann Cascaro
Caricature of HK chief executive CY Leung with horns

Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Revolution’ continues

National Day at Tamar Park by Lorie Ann Cascaro
Children in costume run towards the celebration of National Day held last September 27 at Tamar Park. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
Students hold group discussions along Connaught Road on National Day last October 1. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Man in placards in Occupy Central by Lorie Ann Cascaro
A man holds a placard expressing the protesters’ opposition to the government along Connaught Road last October 1. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)

by Lorie Ann Cascaro

Hong Kong — More people had filled up last Wednesday the streets in Mong Kok and Central to continue a mass demonstration called ‘Occupy Central’ that demands universal suffrage in choosing Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017. The protesters held rallies simultaneously, allowing some speakers to express their opinions and emotions.

Occupy Central was on its fourth day during the 65th National Day on Oct. 1, which was a public holiday here. Some protesters witnessed in the morning the flag-raising at Golden Bauhinia Square. South China Morning Post reported that some students made gestures and chanted to show their opposition to the government and chief executive Leung Chun-ying at the ceremony.

Umbrella Revolution was coined to represent the movement after the police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters at Central in the evening of Sept. 28 as most of them used umbrellas as shields. Others wore goggles or wrapped themselves with cling film or plastic bags.

Attending the protest last Wednesday morning, David Leung, 30, said Umbrella Revolution was not a ‘real revolution’ because it did not aim for a total change of the system. “We just wanted to get back the promise that we had at the beginning,” he told this reporter. He meant by promise as the exercise of people’s democratic rights. He said he joined the protest without knowing the outcome mainly because he is a resident of Hong Kong and of his love for Hong Kong.

Asked whether or not he supported the call for the chief executive’s resignation, Leung did not directly answer the question. He said, “The next [chief executive] will be same since Hong Kong is part of China.” He added that it is possible to slow down the process of changing Hong Kong as similar to China.

Very difficult, but not impossible

Edwin and Peta McAuley, who owns the Edwin McAuley Electronics, Ltd. in Hong Kong and have lived here for at least 35 years, joined and supported Occupy Central. Walking through Connaught Road last Wednesday, along with his wife and daughter, Edwin McAuley told this reporter, “It is difficult for China to back down, but not impossible.”

Peta McAuley said the best scenario is that protesters would continue to be non-violent so that it could go a long time. “Hong Kong people are doing what they should do, which is taking advantage of the opportunity of freedom of speech,” she said, adding that they have to be patient.

The McAuleys said they had been in several protests in Hong Kong, especially the mobilization to support protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. They were not concerned about having a vote in the Hong Kong government. “I’ve lived here for 35 years without a vote. I am concerned about competent leadership, but one thing that would convince me to leave would be corruption,” Peta McAuley said. She added that what differs Hong Kong from China is the rule of law.

“Democracy”

Tony Tong, 27, from Mei Foo district, said some students joined the strike at first to evade classes, but they learned about democracy during the sit-ins. University students began their strike, which was led among others, by Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism, on Sept. 20. They held sit-ins in parks nearby government offices.

Tong had not joined the protest, but he said it was “the most powerful accumulated energy that I have ever seen.” He said with such “energy”, people can bring peace and food for the world when they persist as it is “really a waste to just ask for a vote.” He said he was touched by the protesters’ courage, but it was “not the time to support” such movement. “I know it is right to want freedom, but I don’t think Hong Kong is that bad,” he said.

“Real democracy is that, at least, there is no restriction to participate in the election of chief executive and everyone has the right to participate in this election,” Marcus Lau, 23, a student in Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said last Saturday. He was watching the program to commemorate in advance the National Day at Tamar Park, while policemen blocked passages to the LegCo Complex at Admiralty.

Lau was supposed to join the sit-ins outside the government headquarter earlier on Saturday. It was the second overnight of the students’ strike that was later supported by Occupy Central protesters. Later, policemen gave way when the program ended and more protesters swarmed to the area.

Lau said he was brave enough to do what other students did Friday night, referring to some students who attempted to enter the government building that led to their arrest. “I think, we only have [this] method to grab the attention from the government,” he said.

The political situation in Hong Kong affected “a little bit” Lau’s plan after graduation. He said he is not attracted to work for the government because his standpoint is not totally the same as that of the government.

While others have decided whether or not to support Occupy Central or Umbrella Revolution, Simon Yau, also a student of HKPU, said he did not support any side but admire the protesters’ braveness to express their opinion against the government.

“Democracy in Hong Kong right now is complex because of too many opinions from different people and different sides,” Yau said, adding that it is difficult to solve the situation. “I don’t know how to solve it, but I want the society to become better. The people should calm down and seek for solutions,” he said.

“Occupy Central” goes on during National Day

by Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — The protesters had formed patches along Connaught Road at midday on Wednesday, while the whole country commemorated its 65th National Day. Some of them went home to freshen up or spend time with their family and friends, but promised to come back in the afternoon.

On its fourth day, “Occupy Central” movement has been the biggest mobilization of Hong Kong people since the pro-democracy protest on May 21, 1989 that gathered about 1.5 million people to show sympathy to those who joined the Tiananmen Square protest, said Edwin McAuley, an expat in Hong Kong for 34 years.

Despite the on-going mass action, expatriates here did not sense a threat of safety. Occupy Central protesters had been the “most peaceful and polite in the world,” reports said. Universities allowed their students to join or witness the protest while actively looking after their welfare. For one, the office of the president of Hong Kong Baptist University regularly emailed all students, teaching and non-teaching staff about updates of the situation and provided hotline numbers for their rescue and protection.

The political situation in Hong Kong is a ripe environment for journalism students to experience real news coverage and learn from ways of reporting from different local and international media organizations. Some students and residents here instantly became journalists as media outlets bought or commissioned their outputs to be published in their respective websites and TV stations. The protesters themselves became their own reporters as they had been active in social media, posting photos and tweets.

Journalists and photographers were in every corner of such financial hub. The world was watching Hong Kong shaped its history.

Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
Barricades built by protesters at Connaught Road (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
Water bottles are lined up for more protesters later on National Day. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
Students write slogans on the road at Central. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
Protesters use umbrellas on a sunny morning at Central. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
A family of expatriates joins Occupy Central on National Day. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
A man gives instructions to his fellow protesters on cleaning up the area at Central. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
One of the protesters leans on a wall between two lanes on Connaught Road to relax. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
Two women sit under a tent while the heat goes up on midday at Central. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
Umbrellas, big and small, are everywhere at Central. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
A remote controlled camera hovers the protesters at Central on National Day. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
A couple of students roam around to distribute umbrellas to protesters on midday at Central. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
An orange banner, saying, “Do you hear the people sing,” is hung at a bridge across Connaught Road. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
A woman shares a live report about the protest with a portable radio in Central. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)
Occupy Central on National Day by Lorie Ann Cascaro
“Occupy everything, demand nothing,” says the vandal on a wall at the sidewalk on Connaught Road. (PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro)

Asian migrants, youth groups support Hong Kong’s strikers

Occupy Central by Lorie Ann Cascaro
Protesters gather at government headquarter in Admiralty

by Lorie Ann Cascaro

Hong Kong — Groups of Asian migrants and youth expressed their solidarity to the Hong Kong people’s call for political reforms after police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters occupying the streets in Central on September 28.

The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB), Asia Pacific Students and Youth Association (ASA, formerly known as the Asian Students Association) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Hong Kong and Macau (BAYAN-HKM-New Patriotic Alliance) said they support the Hong Kong people and denounced the police attack against the protesters.

University students started the strike and class boycotts last week to call for universal suffrage to elect the chief executive of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) in 2017. The strike swelled into a bigger protest action as thousands of students and supporters of Occupy Central movement joined the sit-ins outside the government headquarters.

Some protesters have been arrested and detained since their first overnight assembly last September 26.

Last September 28 evening, policemen fired pepper spray and threw canisters of tear gas at the protesters.

Since then, they coined their demonstration as Umbrella Revolution because they used umbrellas as shields from pepper sprays while others wore goggles or wrapped their faces with cling film.

“The right of the people to assemble and protest is being wantonly violated; and activists for democratic rights cannot stand by and watch how the fascism of the Hong Kong government unfolds,” the AMCB said in a statement on September 29.

In the South China Morning Post reported Tuesday, Hong Kong police chief Andy Tsang Wai-hung said the police’s action last Sunday led to “some controversies”, and that he understood the difficulty of their task. He called the policemen under his command to stay “united and resolute”, the report said.

“Seeing the violence committed by the police, people from all walks of life have poured out into the streets and expressed their support,” Rey Asis, ASA regional coordinator said in a statement.

The group demanded from the Hong Kong government to stop the police from violently attacking the protesters and investigate on the violent dispersal and make the officers accountable for initiating or commanding the violence.

ASA also called on all its member organizations in Asia Pacific to support the people in Hong Kong.

BAYAN Hong Kong, the militant alliance of national democratic people’s organisations of Filipinos in Hong Kong and Macau SARs, said they sympathize with the Hong Kong people, “who in their desire to effect change and reforms are met with brutality and excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police.”

“As a people, Filipinos feel for those in Hong Kong who were at the receiving end of the brutality of the government and the police. We also suffered and we continue to suffer from repression when we call for change and for the people’s democratic rights,” BAYAN Hong Kong said.

The group said the Hong Kong people’s demand for political reforms “are rooted in the worsening economic condition that includes rising inflation, constricting social services, austerity, privatization and prioritization by the government of big business interests over that of the working people.”

The AMCB said, “The movement for universal suffrage has been gaining steam for the past years and is further being propelled by the government’s lack of effective response to the problems besetting many of the Hong Kong people.”

Meanwhile, students continued to call support for class boycotts and strike in their university campus, posting banners and sayings on the walls.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions recently announced and called all workers to participate the general strike on October 1, the 65th National Day of the People’s Republic of China. Occupy Central earlier vowed to gather some 10,000 people to paralyze the financial district in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung said Tuesday Occupy Central ‘won’t change Beijing’s mind’, SCMP reported.

Pro-Beijing and Occupy Central at Tamar Park

While Pro-Beijing camp is celebrating in advance the 65th year anniversary of the foundation of People’s Republic of China at Tamar Park, policemen block pro-democracy protesters from entering the LegCo Complex at Admiralty to join the second night of Hong Kong students’ strike and Occupy Central movement. After the program, more supporters gathered at the complex.