Paying domestic helpers under the market rate is discriminatory

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2011, 12:00am


In her response to my letter about the English Schools Foundation debate, Audrey Lam ('Native aspect of a language is not important to people learning English', June 30) misrepresents the facts and my original position ('Helpers have no 'special privileges''', June 20).

It was not I who introduced the issue of 'nativism' to the debate; Julia Kwong conflated the issue about learning English to one of 'colonial privilege' and the 'dubious contribution' of Westerners ('NETs are a drain on resources', June 9). As a matter of fact, I don't advocate colonial privilege of any sort nor did I argue that learning English from a native speaker would be preferable or even a superior method. I simply stated that Ms Kwong's arguments were nativist and hypocritical.

My point about domestic helpers is also directly related to the discussion at hand. If one makes spurious claims about 'colonial privilege', it's a bit rich to be pointing fingers in a city that employs many foreign domestic helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia at salaries below the minimum wage paid to its own citizens. I also take issue with Ms Lam's argument that being employed as a domestic helper here is a 'privilege much admired'. Perhaps a Hong Kong salary is a good wage back home, but the ongoing practice of paying under the market rate - and in this case the labour market is strictly controlled - is nevertheless discriminatory and unfair.

I would also suggest that the reason Ms Lam's compatriots on the mainland are denied the so-called privilege of being employed as domestic helpers is because they would rightly not stand for being treated as second-class citizens in their own country. Even our government - despite its penchant for making one public relations gaffe after another - is wise enough to know that such a move would be a potential PR disaster.

Ms Lam also weakens her own case by advocating the hiring of teachers from non-native English-speaking countries such as Singapore and India on the grounds that they are more 'cost-effective'. That sounds suspiciously to me like colonial privilege of another sort, where the 'market' rate is already conveniently capped for the benefit of employers, just as with domestic helpers. What gives Ms Lam the right to advocate that an English teacher from Singapore or India be paid less for the same work? Or is this nativist 'market' logic and its own curious privileging of nationality and social class?

Kevin McQueen, Causeway Bay