'Scare tactics' over maids' rights
Gary Cheung and Peter So
Rights activists have accused the city's biggest pro-government party of scaremongering as the government prepares to face a judicial review of its refusal to grant permanent residency to foreign domestics.
The issue was raised after the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) yesterday released figures which said the city's unemployment rate could rise to 10 from 3.5 per cent if these rights were granted.
A rights group rejected this, saying the DAB's warning recalled tactics used to oppose the 1999 right-of-abode ruling.
The DAB's projection is based on a government estimate that 500,000 people could settle in Hong Kong if the judicial review, to start on August 22, leads to domestic workers being granted permanent residence. It also warns it would lead to an extra HK$25 billion a year on social spending.
Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, said the figures recalled the doomsday scenario of 1.67 million mainlanders moving to Hong Kong, which was made after the Court of Final Appeal's right of abode ruling in January 1999. The court granted right of abode to Chinese citizens born outside the city if one parent was a permanent resident.
After officials said 13 estates with more than 4,000 flats each would have to be built every year, a standing committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) overturned the ruling in June 1999.
In preparing its response to the judicial review, sought by a Philippine couple who have worked in the city since 1980, the government estimates that about 125,000 foreign domestics who have been in the city for at least seven years continuously will be entitled to permanent residency. Assuming each has a spouse and two children, the figure jumps to 500,000.
Based on the government figures, the DAB estimates the unemployment rate would reach 7 per cent, up from the current 3.5 per cent, when 125,000 domestic workers become eligible to apply for residency and resign from their employers. If their spouses move to Hong Kong, this might reach 10 per cent, it said.
But Law said these figures were scare tactics and added that the DAB 'should explain why they assume all foreign domestic helpers would apply for residency and everyone would need public housing and apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance'.
DAB lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king said: 'We are only putting forward an estimation of the possible consequences and remind the government to be prepared for all possible outcomes.'
Among options being prepared for consideration by an Executive Council meeting, which could be held as early as Friday, is one allowing foreign domestic workers to renew their work visas once or twice. Another option is to seek an interpretation of the Basic Law by the NPC's Standing Committee, as in 1999.