Action needs to be taken to ensure the safety of foreign domestic workers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2011, 12:00am


The Hong Kong government has shown laudable concern for the women workers it hired on a temporary basis to conduct the population census in July.

As you reported at the time, an 80-year-old man allegedly touched the breast of a census taker on July 16, and there was another alleged incident on July 17. Within days, the Census and Statistics Department said it would ensure that a male worker would accompany any female colleague taking the census.

Open Door (a group of Hong Kong citizens supporting rights for foreign domestic workers) would like to see similar prompt and thorough action by the government to ensure the work safety of the nearly 300,000 foreign domestic workers who are almost all female. They represent 7.5 per cent of our workforce of 3.8 million (as of mid-2011), or about 15 per cent of our total female workforce. As live-in domestic workers they are extremely vulnerable to a host of labour and human rights abuses, as they work in private homes which are hard to monitor. Hong Kong must care for the safety of all of its women workers.

Migrant domestic shelters and advice centres such as Bethune House and the Mission for Migrant Workers have provided evidence that rapes, suicides and severe physical and mental abuse are regular occurrences.

Of 614 ongoing cases handled by workers from the Mission for Migrant Workers last year:

Seven per cent of the mission's clients reported physical assault, physical abuse, sexual assault or sexual abuse;

Sixteen per cent of clients reported not receiving enough food to eat; and

Twenty-three per cent did not have a private room.

Those without their own room must sleep in the living, dining or laundry room, kitchen or bathroom, or share a room.

Reported cases form only a small portion of actual incidents that occur every year in Hong Kong. The reality is that an enormous number of the workers suffer various abuses in silence to avoid termination of their contracts, especially before their agency fee debt has been paid.

The government has an obligation to ensure the safety of the women workers whom it has permitted to work in Hong Kong. It must end its discriminatory neglect of their safety, and in particular end the live-in requirement for foreign domestic workers.

Doris Lee, Open Door