Activists from the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body marched to the Central Government Offices on Thursday demanding that the government amend contracts to provide better working conditions for the city’s domestic workers.
The Standard Employment Contract (SEC) for Foreign Domestic Helpers states that “suitable and furnished accommodation” must be provided. However, the group says that the definition is too vague and open to abuse, leading to some domestic workers sleeping in storage rooms, on roofs or on top of washing machines.
“How can we work when we can’t sleep? How can we work when we don’t have a proper place to rest at night?” said spokesperson Dolores Balladares.
After the march, the group handed a petition to a government representative calling for amendments to domestic worker contracts.
‘11-hour uninterrupted rest’
Sringatin, another spokesperson for the group, told HKFP that domestic workers are rarely granted proper periods of rest: “We receive many complaints from migrant domestic workers that they work for 16-20 hours, meaning that they only have sleep for four or six hours a day, not including rest hours.”
In response, the group have proposed a provision of 11-hours uninterrupted rest between two consecutive working days plus meal breaks, including a penalty clause in case the employers breach the rules.
Jingga, an Indonesian domestic worker attending the rally, told HKFP that she was asked to leave her employers’ home at 11pm at night after she refused to sign a termination of employment contract. She says she was terminated without explanation, forcing her to stay at a shelter. Jingga added that her ex-employer refused to give her a month’s outstanding salary and a long service payment, leading her to file a legal case.
Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance, said: “There are a lot of sacrifices that women migrant domestic workers have to make in order to stay in Hong Kong, not only for our families – our income is also very limited.”
Outside of work, the group said that migrant domestic workers face discrimination in society – from racism to exclusionary visa policies such as the “two-week rule.” The rule states that domestic workers must find employment within 14 days of leaving a job or leave the city.
Sringatin told HKFP: “They get treated different[ly] and there is also discrimination. That is why we say the Hong Kong government is practising modern day slavery.”
“If the Hong Kong government want to remove modern day slavery, they need to reform the policy against migrant domestic workers and abolish all discriminatory policies like visas.”
Balladares told HKFP: “The two-week rule is still there – the job insecurity, discrimination, abuses, violation of contracts and many more things. But we think that if the Hong Kong government move on the major issue of accommodation and working hours, then some other issues will follow.”
Last month, New People’s Party lawmaker Eunice Yung triggered outcry from domestic worker groups, after she said at a Legislative Council meeting that domestic workers “sit, eat and sleep on the ground, thus affecting the daily lives of the public, the operation of shops and the environmental hygiene in public places.”
Balladares told HKFP: “Migrants are very angry about her statement because it is discriminating. She said sorry already, but I think more than saying sorry, she has to do something about protecting the working conditions of migrant domestic workers. This is a very good opportunity to do this.”
There are almost 370,000 domestic workers in Hong Kong according to the government, making up ten per cent of the workforce. In a January blog post, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung pledged to protect the domestic worker community with better regulation of employment agencies.