Hong Kong domestic worker fired after cancer diagnosis dies

by AFP

HONG KONG – A Filipina who was sacked as a domestic worker in Hong Kong after being diagnosed with cancer — a case that exposed the vulnerability of low-paid foreign workers — has passed away, a friend confirmed Wednesday.

Baby Jane Allas (picture), 40, was told she had stage three cervical cancer two years ago and was promptly fired by her employer, who cited the illness as the reason for termination.

The single mother of five instantly lost the right to healthcare and had to regularly apply for visa extensions as she navigated Hong Kong’s legal and immigration systems while battling cancer.

Supporters crowd-funded her treatment and Allas had successfully overcome her cancer. 

But she died on Saturday from complications related to a kidney infection.

“Baby Jane passed away suddenly last weekend at her home in the Philippines,” Jessica Cutrera, an American national in Hong Kong who led the crowdfunding campaign and took Allas in, told AFP.

“We are all devastated by this, especially given her successful battle with cancer. She lived with us for nearly a year during her fight and treatment and we are heartbroken by the news,” she added. 

Allas was awarded HK$30,000 (US$ 3,860) damages from her former employer — who hailed from a wealthy Hong Kong family of Pakistani origin — for sickness allowance, medical fees and wages in lieu of notice.

She returned to the Philippines last year but had hoped to return to Hong Kong for work.

Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission also took up her plight earlier this year, launching a separate discrimination case against her former employer.

Cutrera, who also employs Allas’ sister, said the family hoped to continue pursuing the discrimination case “on behalf of her estate”.

“Her sister flew back today to be with the family and we are now focusing on figuring out what is needed for the surviving children,” she said.

“We had funds left over that we were saving for future care needs, and have been able to use those to pay for her funeral and cover the family for the next few months.”

Nearly 370,000 domestic helpers work in Hong Kong. 

Most are poor women from the Philippines and Indonesia working for low wages, often living in grim conditions and sending much of their wages back home to support their families.

City authorities say the system is fair and that abuses are rare. 

But rights campaigners say domestic helpers are routinely exploited, with laws providing them little protection.

Experts say steep agency fees, a requirement for maids to live with their employers, a minimum monthly wage of just HK$4,630 (US$595) and rules that require fired domestic workers to quickly depart the city leave maids acutely vulnerable to abusive or unscrupulous employers.

The US State Department placed Hong Kong on par with Cambodia, Pakistan and Nigeria in its annual human trafficking rankings, partly because of the lack of protections offered to domestic helpers.