My Take

Relaxing maids' live-in rule means less room for conflict

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 4:02am

Having to live in close quarters explains a lot of weird and violent things that people do to each other in Hong Kong. That includes those foreign maids who have to live day in, day out with families they don't get along with. This is why the demand by a group of domestic helpers that the government should relax the mandatory live-in rule makes perfect sense.

Space is at a premium in Hong Kong, so the fact you have to provide a room or at least living space to your maid should be factored into the cost of hiring. Why bother having a stranger at home and having your privacy compromised if she can live elsewhere and only come in to work during normal hours?

Relationships between servants and bosses are often stressful, whatever the circumstances. Giving each other some space can help moderate tensions and potential conflicts.

Sure, many people want a maid to be bossed around at all hours of the day. But such shameless and exploitative bosses can still do so even if the government relaxes the live-in rule.

The demand was made during a rare protest on Sunday supported by the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions. The maids say they will be less likely to face abuse, assault and exploitation if they can get away at night.

Decent families who don't want to exploit their maids to the fullest extent possible and just want them to do their work should welcome the proposal. Those who want their maids to live with them can always insist on that, but others should be given another option.

But what if the maids moonlight and find extra work? Well, that's illegal - and if they are caught, they will be punished and kicked out of Hong Kong.

A more relevant question is where they can find accommodation when rents are so high. Obviously, that's not the government's responsibility. Currently, many maids already live outside the home. Some find places with charities, churches and unions, while others share rooms paid collectively by fellow maids or agents, who usually demand a fee. All this is, at the moment, illegal.

But if maids can find their own place to live or if their bosses are willing to subsidise them, they should not be penalised. Indeed, they should be encouraged.