Car parks proposed for maids' recreation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 September, 2007, 12:00am

Gathering plan for domestic helpers

The government will study a proposal to turn underused car parks in Central into recreational areas for foreign domestic helpers as suggested at a district council meeting yesterday.

The idea was welcomed by a maids' group, but it said the spaces should not be an excuse to move them out of publicly visible areas in the district.

Central and Western district councillor Stephen Chan Chit-kwai, one of those putting the proposal forward, said it was 'highly undesirable' for maids to be exposed to bad weather and be deprived of privacy on pavements and footbridges, their usual weekend gathering spots.

He said the five multi-storey car parks in the district - located next to the old Star Ferry pier, City Hall, Murray Road, Rumsey Street and Kennedy Town - were not fully utilised, which he regarded as a waste of public resources.

The Transport Department revealed the City Hall car park averaged only 6 per cent utilisation per day, and the car park next to the old Star Ferry pier was about 20 per cent.

Another councillor, Kam Nai-wai, said that the maids, public and city scenery all lost out in the present situation, and the suggestion to utilise the public facilities was worth a try.

Joanne Fu Lai-chun, district leisure manager of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, said the idea to turn car parks into recreational spaces was fresh.

'We will study it carefully and discuss it further in the next term of the district council,' she said.

Yesterday's meeting was the last one of the term.

One government department has reservations about the suggestion.

Simon Cheung Sai-man, chief transport officer of the Transport Department, said that adopting the suggestion would add administrative difficulties to the car parks and that their facilities, such as toilets and fire escapes, were not designed to support crowds.

'It will also be very difficult to handle the safety problems and to classify the responsibilities,' he said.

Eman Villanueva, a spokesman for United Filipinos in Hong Kong, welcomed the suggestion with some caution, saying it should not be an excuse to move the maids from parks or open areas in Central because some people might consider them 'an eyesore'.

On Sundays and public holidays, crowds of Filipino maids gather around the city, including in the atrium on the ground floor of the HSBC headquarters building and Chater Park in Central, and sometimes inside shopping malls.

There are about 226,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, of whom, roughly half are Filipinos.

Sundays are typically the maids' only day off. Generally, Filipino maids tend to go to Central and Wan Chai, and Indonesian or Thai maids are seen in Causeway Bay.

Mr Villanueva, who urged the government to provide more gathering locations, said: 'It is a good idea to open up more space for foreign domestic helpers on Sundays, but car parks may not be the best choice because there are not many facilities in car parks.'