29 August 2011

Work update; Marcella

Jou san!

I hope all my friends back in the States are weathering the, ah, weather and staying dry! News of Hurricane Irene reaches us here, even as another Hurricane tears through the Philippines and Taiwan.

Starting this week I will no longer be going to the Bethune House twice a week; instead, I will come to the Mission every day and spend Sunday afternoons at Victoria Park teaching English. I am excited about this opportunity and hope that I am able to assist these women in communicating effectively in English.

Wednesday the 31st is a big event for the Mission: Flag Day! Similar to the one we had for Bethune House, we will be all over Central accepting donations for the Mission. Since permits for Flag Days are only given once every five years, it’s all hands on deck! The staff is abuzz with plans and organizing, preparing for what will surely be a big day.

This morning Father Dwight (the Filipino priest) and I went with a client to her conciliation meeting with the Labor Relations Division. Marcella*, an older woman in her mid-50's, had surgery some time ago to remove breast cancer but with a pre-employment medical examination was deemed fit to work when she began her contract in April. However, in June she began to experience pain and swelling in her right arm, and when it became too great to bear she requested to see a doctor. When she went to the hospital the doctors admitted her, and following several scans they discovered that her breast cancer had returned and spread down her arm. Over the following weeks she was kept in the hospital for observation. Her employer did not come to visit her; instead, she sent text messages asking how long this was going to take and if it was going to last for several months, or if she was unfit to work, then she would have to terminate the contract to find a new helper.

Marcella experienced not only the physical pain of cancer but also the emotional pain of being so far from her family and an antipathetic employer. The employer continued to send text messages threatening to terminate. In July Marcella received a letter of termination, stating that she had lied on her employment contract and was unable to perform her duties. The employer did not want to pay any of her obligations---wages in lieu of notice, air ticket to the place of origin, travel allowance, medical bills. When she signed the contract she must have skipped the parts that spelled out her obligations; too often, it seems, employers do not take into consideration their end of the arrangements.

From the employer's point of view--a young Canadian woman, living here in Hong Kong with her boyfriend and their dog--I could understand her need to find a replacement since the helper they had hired was no longer able to perform the duties. I would want to find someone else too. However, the way she went about terminating the contract and the ensuing ugliness over Marcella's care and her obligations to Marcella were despicable. It seems she was more concerned about having someone available to walk and feed her dog than she was about the health and well-being of the woman she entered into a contract with.

In the end, Marcella settled for a little more than half of what she was claiming. She will be heading home to the Philippines in the next week while she is still able to travel. Her prognosis was not good--stage four, already metastasized. Father Dwight says she has a month, maybe a few weeks, left. It is good that she is now able to go home and be with her family. To have fought this case any longer would only cost precious time, so much of which has already been wasted.

Before we departed we laid our hands on Marcella and prayed for healing, for grace, for mercy. Sunday’s sermon at the Cathedral encouraged us to answer Christ’s question, “Who do you say I am?” and take up our crosses to follow Him. In the work we do at the Mission we proclaim Christ’s presence to those who are suffering injustice. We leave behind the world that says that to be successful is to have material wealth; rather, a life of love and service is what we are called into—a life that fulfills God’s mission of reconciliation.

Thank you for joining me in this journey, and I hope you will leave any thoughts, comments, or questions.

Grace and Peace,

*name changed

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