Lawmaker appeals to HK gov't: Encourage, don't require, vaccination of OFWs

Published May 5, 2021, 11:46 AM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senator Joel Villanueva has shared the concern that the Hong Kong government’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for all domestic workers would be discriminatory against overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Overseas Filipino workers who were quarantined for weeks wait for flights back to their home cities in Manila’s international airport on May 28, 2020. (Ted ALJIBE / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

The chairman of the Senate labor committee on Wednesday, May 5, maintained that vaccination should be based on the “informed choice”, and should not be done under state compulsion.

“It should not be made a requisite for work visa renewal more so if other foreigners in that country are exempted from mandatory vaccination. It is patently discriminatory,” Villanueva said in a statement.

“Kahit naman dito sa atin, wala pong pilitan pagdating sa bakuna. Pero mariin po nating hinihimok ang lahat na magpabakuna (Even here in the Philippines, we do not force the inoculation, although we highly encourage all to get vaccinated). So, in whatever country, the protocol is to inform before you inject,” he pointed out.

Hong Kong health officials had announced that they were planning to impose vaccination as a requirement for domestic workers who would apply or renew their for work visas. They said these workers were deemed “high risk”.

A huge number of the 370,000 domestic workers are Filipinos.

Filipino migrant workers groups decried the move, saying they were being “singled out and targeted”. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. also said that the plan to inoculate only household workers “smacks of discrimination”.

The Philippine government appealed to Hong Kong not to single out OFWs in its mandatory vaccination plan.

Following concerns, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said they would reexamine the vaccine requirement.

But Villanueva said that if workers are forced to get a COVID-19 jab, then it must be free of charge and should not be solely based on their immigration status.

“There’s a thin line between vaccine democracy and class discrimination,” he pointed out.

He added that the vaccination should be preceded by education. “Regardless of the country, its government has to explain the benefits.”

“Filipinos everywhere are an enlightened lot when it comes to vaccine benefits. You do not have to force them to get jabbed. They will gladly step forward,” he noted.

“If they will build it, they will come. Pero ‘pag sinabi mo na pwersahan ito at mandatory, mayroong aalma sa proseso. Kahit naman anumang nationality, ganyan po ang magiging reaction (But if you tell people that this is mandatory, there will really be objections. Workers of any nationality would react the same),” Villanueva said.