Domestic workers in Hong Kong insulted by ‘measly’ wage, food allowance hike

The recent wage increase for foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong is a result of sustained collective action by migrant rights groups. (Photo courtesy of AMCB)

“We asked for a livable wage but the Hong Kong government gave us a slave wage.”

By BULATLAT

MANILA — Migrant groups in Hong Kong have criticized the HK$110-salary increase and the $22-food allowance hike of foreign domestic helpers (FDH).

In a statement, the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body (AMCB) said the new minimum allowable wage of HK$4,520 approved yesterday is a far cry from the HK$5500 that they have been demanding.

The AMCB said the $5,500 is based on an Oxfam Hong Kong study calculating the living wage with adjustments made for domestic workers’ average hours and deductions made for expenses covered by employers such as rent and utilities.

“We asked for a livable wage but the HK government gave us a slave wage,” the AMCB said.

Cost of living in Hong Kong is 133.63 percent higher than in Philippines.

Based on Hong Kong government’s own study in 2014-2015, the per capita food expenditure is HK$2,500. The recent increase raised the food allowance to $1,075.

“It seems that the Hong Kong government is fine with migrant domestic workers eating only instant noodles, while we cook for other people, clean houses, take care of children, elderly, and pets, and do the laundry,” Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, AMCB spokesperson, said.
 
Hong Kong’s Standard Employment Contract states that if the employer pays food allowance, s/he is not obliged to provide food.

AMCB said that since the HK government provides no standard nor guidelines with regards to food provision, a lot of employers provide domestic workers with leftovers.

For years, AMCB and other migrant workers organizations representing domestic workers not only in the Philippines but also from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Nepal held dialogues with the Labour Department and other government agencies in Hong Kong.

“This increase, however little, would not have been possible without our consistent and unified struggle for just wage,” Balladares-Pelaez said.

Besides salary hike and food allowance, migrant groups have also been pushing for 11-hour uninterrupted rest plus meal breaks in two consecutive days, and decent accommodation.

Cost of living in Hong Kong is 134% higher than in Philippines.

In their letter dated Aug. 7 to the Labour Department, migrant groups said the HK government not only failed to improve their situation, but also treated them like “second-class workers.” “In Hong Kong, even though foreign domestic workers have their contracts, they are subjected to harsh immigration regulations, and exclusion from labour protections,” they said.

Foreign / live-in domestic workers are excluded from the Minimum Wage Ordinance, the Mandatory Provident Fund, the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance. They added that the “contractual working hour policy” was announced but not carried out.

The 350,000 foreign domestic workers make up to almost 10 percent of the labour force in Hong Kong, and the number is likely to increase. In 2016, almost 10% of the elderly who live alone hired foreign domestic workers, and nearly 8% of the retired couples hired foreign domestic workers. According to the government’s population projection, against the backdrop of the ageing population, Hong Kong will have more foreign domestic workers.

The AMCB called on all migrant workers to take this to the streets. “Let us continue to unite and struggle to end slavery!” the group said.()

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