Maids groups cheer global treaty
China's support of a global treaty to protect domestic helpers worldwide will help greatly improve the working conditions of foreign maids employed in Hong Kong, their union representatives said yesterday.
The comments came a day after the 183-member International Labour Organisation, a UN agency based in Geneva, adopted the treaty to improve conditions for tens of millions of domestic workers globally.
The text, which still needs to be ratified by member states, says countries should now take steps to ensure that workers 'enjoy fair terms of employment as well as decent working conditions'.
The conference adopted the convention with 396 votes in favour and 16 against. The Coalition for Migrants Rights (CMR) in Hong Kong has campaigned for the adoption of the convention since 2006.
By voting for the treaty, China had given a boost to the hopes of domestic helpers in Hong Kong, CMR spokesman Rex Varona said. If implemented, it would usher in sweeping changes, he said.
'We couldn't be happier with the result,' he said. 'Legco will make a final decision on any changes, but the fact that China voted for it gives us much more leverage.'
The treaty makes helpers eligible for a minimum wage, regulates their working hours, says they cannot be required to live in their employer's home - as most in Hong Kong must do - and requires changes to laws on helpers' conditions of stay.
'Any policy or law of an international standard that has been passed to improve conditions for migrant workers can only be beneficial. Whether this will be enforced in Hong Kong is another matter, but at least a standard has been created,' said Holly Allan, manager for Helpers for Domestic Helpers, a St John's Cathedral pastoral outreach group for foreign domestic helpers.
The Labour Department said that, under Article 153 of the Basic Law, the central government may decide on the applicability of international agreements to Hong Kong after seeking the city's views and considering its needs.
Joseph Law, chairman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, said he agreed with most of the convention's provisions , but not those making maids eligible for a minimum wage and stating they should be paid by the hour rather than monthly.