Don't let foreign domestic helpers vote

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 May, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 May, 1995, 12:00am

I REFER to Andy Ho's column which appeared in the South China Morning Post, on April 20, regarding foreign domestic helpers (FDHs).

These helpers occupy a privileged position, in that they are able to work here without having any special skill. Their contribution to Hong Kong society is rewarded by their terms of employment, which are the best in the region.

They are already protected under Hong Kong laws which do not discriminate against them.

There is no question of any racial discrimination in my association's stance. We have not challenged the voting rights of expatriates living and working in Hong Kong whether they be Filipino, Thai, Caucasian or Japanese. They reside here under a totally different set of immigration regulations to those which apply to foreign domestics. These regulations allow expatriates to come to Hong Kong for settlement purposes and to acquire permanent residence. The distinction is not one of race, but of immigration status. The restriction on foreign domestics' residence rights is designed to protect the unskilled local workforce and avoid an even heavier burden being placed on our social facilities. There is no limit to the numbers of FDHs who can come into Hong Kong. Without the restriction on settlement rights they would not have been allowed to come into Hong Kong in such numbers in the first place.

I am sure Mr Ho is aware of this and therefore his accusations of 'racial discrimination' have no foundation and are tantamount to a political smear.

The Boundary and Election Commission has stated that under present regulations, even though in their view FDHs are entitled to vote, they are only so entitled if their seven years' qualifying residence in Hong Kong has been lawful. If during the seven-year period they have overstayed their visas then during the period of overstay their residence would not be lawful. It is likely a very large number of FDHs have overstayed their visas albeit for only a few days.

The commission has no screening system and only carries out random checks to see whether a registered voter is qualified as such. The voter registration form does not mention that over-staying is unlawful and will interrupt seven years' residence. We do not think that the average FDH who is registering as an elector will be aware of the effect of over-staying unless it is clearly and specifically explained to them. This means that there is a real danger that many FDHs who register will not qualify and further that they will be making a false declaration due to a lack of understanding on their part.

The right to vote, especially in a foreign country, is not a human right. The international conventions on human political rights do not include the right to vote. Our association believes that the right to vote should only be available to Hong Kong belongers and should not be a right made available to those who are transient workers who can never become permanent residents in Hong Kong. The right to vote in other countries such as the US, the UK, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and last but not least the Philippines, does not even extend to permanent residents.

On the day Mr Ho's article appeared, the Post also reported that the Preliminary Working Committee Legal Sub-Group, had stated that allowing foreign domestic helpers to vote would breach the Basic Law. The Basic Law does not come into effect until after June 30, 1997, however its provisions on this point are abundantly clear. Under Article 24 (4) non-Chinese nationals who have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years and have taken Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence are entitled to vote.

FDHs are allowed into Hong Kong under Immigration Regulations on the basis that their stay here is not for settlement purposes. Accordingly Hong Kong cannot be their place of permanent residence.

It would seem irresponsible at the very least to enact or apply regulations now which are directly in conflict with the Basic Law. Does Mr Ho believe the provisions of the Basic Law should be deliberately flouted? If these are flouted in this manner then it will give China the justification it seeks to set aside the result of the 1995 election.

Mr Ho's attacks are groundless and I am sure the people of Hong Kong will see them as such.

YUNG MAY SHAN-YEE for The Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association