House bound

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2001, 12:00am

In difficult economic times people frequently give vent to their frustrations in irrational ways. Often these emotions are expressed by making unreasonable demands of those in power to fix the ills that beset people's lives.

What is wrong with the economy is the Government's fault and the Government should do more to clean up the mess, runs the argument.

Blaming hard times on macro-economic factors and nebulous global causes does not satisfy human nature. It would normally be expected of those in power, however, to exercise more rationality when formulating policies to alleviate a battered economy.

And yet it is rationality that appears to be lacking from one of the latest government proposals to create jobs for locals.

Indeed, the Government's plan to force foreign domestic helpers to live in the same property as their employers could even be regarded as a cynical exercise merely to create an impression of job creation.

Certainly few whose opinions hold much sway are likely to make much fuss. Furthermore, on superficial examination at least the Government's reasoning seems sound.

The government paper says: 'We believe enforcing the live-in requirement for all foreign domestic helpers would result in more job opportunities for local domestic helpers . . .' This is clearly to be welcomed.

It is likely few will question the assumption behind this statement, or whether this is a move that will really create jobs for Hong Kongers.

The tacit reason for the belief that job opportunities would arise is that employers who prefer their domestic helpers to live out are conniving with helpers so that, in fact, the helper does not work full-time for the sponsor, but is allowed to engage in illegal part-time work. It would be nice to see the evidence for this.

The fact is some foreign domestic helpers will always engage in illegal part-time work, simply because there is a demand for it. Few locals will be able or willing to provide the same level of service as foreign maids for between $40 and $50 an hour.

Cracking down on those who are prepared to sign an employment contract for a helper they do not genuinely employ is the proper and sensible way to ensure adherence to the law. Targeting a few thousand foreign maids for the spurious reason that Hong Kongers are suddenly going to start entering the domestic helper market in any meaningful way is not.