Time city pays respect to domestic helpers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 October, 2011, 12:00am
 

It was a good win for Hong Kong's rule of law last Friday. Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a Filipina domestic worker who has lived here since 1986, won a legal challenge against laws preventing helpers settling here permanently.

However, the victory was not universally celebrated; the case, which could affect thousands of helpers, has split opinion in the city.

The High Court ruled it is unconstitutional for the government to stop domestic helpers gaining right of abode. They want to be entitled to live in Hong Kong after seven years' continuous residency.

There are fears that the ruling could lead to an influx of 500,000 people - including children and spouses of the helpers - that would cost taxpayers an extra HK$25 billion in social welfare spending.

The law explicitly banning domestic helpers from settling permanently in the city is discriminatory. Other foreign nationals can gain residency after living in Hong Kong for seven years, so it is unjustifiable that immigration rules specifically exclude helpers.

It was high time someone took such a brave stance. Domestic helpers have worked hard to earn themselves a place in the city and in doing so have kept our homes clean and functional for a long time. They deserve to be treated as more than second-class citizens.

As the world moves towards equal rights for all, so must Hong Kong. This court case, and its outcome, is a timely indicator of our willingness to adapt to the changes taking place around us. It also shows the progress we have made in welcoming people of different races and occupations to our city. It is something we should be proud of.

The court's ruling is still subject to a government appeal and the outcome is not something the domestic helpers can decide. But now is the perfect moment for the city and its inhabitants to pause from their hectic lives and start to appreciate these persevering, hard-working house cleaners and child carers by paying them deserved respect - instead of a mere salary.

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