Maids pay-cut plan dropped

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 February, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 February, 2002, 12:00am

Hong Kong's 235,000 overseas domestic helpers were celebrating 'a victory for all working people' last night after the Government dropped proposals to cut their minimum wage from $3,670 a month.

However, an employers' group denounced the decision and accused Secretary for Education and Manpower Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun of reneging on her promise to cut the wages amid the economic downturn.

The Government would continue to monitor the situation and review the minimum pay if necessary when fourth-quarter 2001 figures for Hong Kong's economic performance were available next month, Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower Philip Chok Kin-fu said last night.

The pay issue for foreign maids has split the community since the South China Morning Post reported in November that the Government was reviewing the minimum wage amid indications it could be cut for a second time in three years. It was cut by five per cent in 1999, from $3,860.

The Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association lobbied the administration to lower the minimum wage from $3,670 to $3,150, which would have brought it down to pre-1992 levels. Domestic helpers staged a series of protests against the plan.

Yesterday's decision was welcomed by workers' leaders and diplomats. Connie Bragas-Regalado, spokeswoman for the Asian Migrants Co-ordinating Body, said in a statement the decision was 'a victory for migrants, a victory for all working people'.

'We hope the Hong Kong Government will continue to bear in mind that its responsibility, especially in times of economic crisis, is first and foremost to protect and defend the wages, jobs and livelihood of the most marginalised sectors,' she said.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is in New York to address the World Economic Forum, had been told by e-mail about the decision, said Philippine Labour Secretary Patricia Sto Tomas.

'I was told by the Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, who had talked to the President about it, [that] the President said she is very happy about the development,' Mrs Sto Tomas said.

The Philippines has the largest number of domestic helpers in Hong Kong, with 155,450 up to December.

Joseph Law, founder and vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, said: 'The decision made by the Hong Kong Government is totally against our expectations and we are greatly disappointed.'

He said Mrs Law had told them three months ago that if wages were generally falling the minimum wage of domestic helpers would be reduced.

'The decision today contradicts that,' he said. 'We are disappointed that the Government's decision cannot meet the demands of employers.'

Mrs Law first told three consuls-general - Zeneida Angara-Collinson, of the Philippines, M. Roestam Effendi, of Indonesia, and Sihasak Phuangketkeow, of Thailand - about the decision when she called them to a meeting yesterday at the Education and Manpower Bureau offices in Central.

Mrs Angara-Collinson said: 'This is a triumph of joint action . . . decency and righteousness triumphed today.'

Mr Phuangketkeow said: 'It will be a tremendous morale boost for the Thai domestic helpers in Hong Kong . . . it will also show that the Hong Kong authorities are providing just and fair treatment for their foreign domestic helpers.'