Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Should domestic helpers face further pay cut?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 12:00am

It is time for an adjustment of the minimum wage for foreign domestic helpers. It should be lowered by 10 to 20 per cent.

After the beginning of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, most Asian countries devalued their currencies. The Indonesian and Philippines currencies have depreciated by almost 30 per cent against the Hong Kong dollar. So foreign domestics from these two countries are earning 30 per cent more than they were before the 1997 crash. Therefore, a downward adjustment of 10 per cent to 20 per cent would not affect their actual purchasing power in their home countries.

On the other hand, Hong Kong people are suffering from the strong Hong Kong dollar and weakened economy. Most organisations are doing fat-trimming exercises. They are either laying off staff, or slashing salaries. Even the Government has reduced the entry salaries for most civil service grades by 30 per cent. However, the Government has only slightly adjusted the minimum wage of maids. It reduced the wage by five per cent in 1999, from $3,860 to $3,670. I consider the present minimum wage of $3,670 to be too high, taking into account the fact that the employer has to provide food, accommodation, medical insurance, and air tickets for a foreign domestic helper. Compare this with other Asian countries, where employers are paying less than HK$2,000 per month.

Even though Hong Kong's standard of living is higher than many other countries in the region, that does justify us paying maids nearly twice what they could earn elsewhere in Asia. To help relieve the financial burden imposed on many families in the SAR, there is a genuine need for domestic helpers' wages to be cut.