Filipino workers in Hong Kong protest welfare fees


HONG KONG, AP

Several dozen Filipino workers shouted slogans and presented a petition Wednesday protesting a new compulsory US$25 annual fee earmarked for overseas welfare services.

The Philippine Overseas Workers Welfare Administration has set a policy requiring the approximately 6 million Filipinos working overseas to pay the flat US$25 tax every year beginning next year.

The protesters charged that the money would be used to pay for military actions by the Philippine army. Connie Bragus Regalado, chairwoman of the labor rights group United Filipinos in Hong Kong, presented a petition to a Philippine consulate officer that she said was signed by 7,699 Hong Kong-based Filipino laborers opposed to the tax.

“We cannot stand by while the Philippine government intensifies its extortion from us and uses the billions of our remittances and fee collections to fatten the pockets of the powers that be, and then use them also to attack us and threaten our lives through further impoverishment and wars,” Bragus-Regalado said.”

After receiving the petition, the official retreated into the consular office without comment. Officials at the consulate contacted by phone also declined immediate comment.

Shouting through a megaphone, speakers railed against the levy and against recent military action against rebels in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao

“We need welfare and protection – not collection!” said one placard.

Shortly afterward, the group dispersed.

There are 141,500 Filipinos working in Hong Kong, the majority as live-in maids. Their basic minimum salary is 3,670 Hong Kong dollars (US$470) a month.