Hong Kong would grind to standstill without hard-working helpers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 January, 2010, 12:00am

I refer to Prakash Mahbubani's letter ('Give helpers minimum wage, but make them pay their own bills', January 17).

He makes it quite clear he thinks that helpers are overpaid since their wages cover their accommodation and transport home and implies they don't work as hard as they say they do.

He says that he and others would gladly pay domestic helpers more if they lived out, suggesting a work day of 9am to 6pm with an hour lunch break (I assume he means five days a week, since even civil servants work no longer than that).

Your correspondent is completely out of touch with the reality of the lives of domestic helpers here and what is expected of them by employers.

By 9am most domestic helpers have been up for a minimum of three hours, during which they will have washed one or two cars, walked the dog, bathed, dressed and packed lunches for the children of the household and served the family breakfast. She then gets the children to school, shops for meals and does the cleaning, laundry and ironing. Picking the children up from school she ferries them to various lessons for several hours. Returning home, she prepares dinner, feeds the children and packs their bag for the next day.

The parents come home later and are served a full meal; after she gets through the washing up, it is often 11 or 12 at night.

She is then free to luxuriate in her 'rest and leisure time', perhaps six hours before starting it all again the next day.

Working these 18-hour days, six days per week at the minimum wage for helpers, her hourly salary is a glorious HK$33.15.

The fact of the matter is that this town would come to a standstill without the support of the community of domestic helpers.

The government-sanctioned exploitation of this group is appalling - from the reduction of their wages several years ago (and the failure to reinstate them when the economy more than recovered) to the fact that they are not permitted to live where they choose or to establish permanent residency as other foreigners are permitted to.

Christine Houston, Mid-Levels