• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 5:35am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 4:02am

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

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.


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This article is now closed to comments

how feudal hk is.. to actually be having a debate about such fundamental social freedoms. HK may be one of the freest economies in the world but it is way behind the developed world when it comes to such fundamental human rights for the lower economic classes. About time Hong Kongers started spending more time with their kids and cleaning up after themselves a bit more, too.
Yes. More professional and less exploitation. And you should become more enlightened as a human too. Once the rule repealled the extra bonus will be not only less room for conflict, there will be more room in the Central for weekend-walk and shopping by everyone. True civility in the making.
The live-in rule is like wearing a suspender and a belt at the same time. While the law is to prevent maids accepting outside work, it restricts maid’s movement by a live-in rule so that supervision by employers at night is possible. The most ‘laughable’ part of these laws yet that there are mostly no proper accommodation at the employer’s flat. Laws are made only with a narrow view.
The maids in Hong Kong are part of the property chain whereby they are at the bottom. They came into such ubiquitous present in Hong Kong’s families in the seventies when two-income per family was the only means to rent or buy a flat. Absentee in parenting and housework, maids became essential. The maids are at the very bottom with flat owners may be above them in the property chain. They are all modern slaves exploited by government, bankers and property developers in the need of survival or a place to live respectively.
I hope there will be a day when such primitive property chain will be broken. Foreign maids reunite with their own family and one parent stay home; government finds other way to cover expanses, banks and developers turn to life sustainable investments.
For those childless families, cleaning up, buy your grocery and cook your own meals are really part of living. Find time to do them. Work efficiently at work and don’t pretend you are when you suppose to be home – that specially apply to every worker whose child or children and spouse is waiting for you.
Given the unbelievably long hours that maids have to work in HK, I would be surprised if any of them found the time to moonlight. There should definently be some laws regarding the basic provision of accommodation for maids. If there is insufficient space in the employers home to provide a basic locked room and bed then employers should be required to provide outside accommodation. Yes, many people can't afford this but then they need to question whether or not they need a maid. If so, then the Gov't should try to do something in the way of providing a scheme of registered after school childminders/child centres where children can safely stay until their parents return from work. Parents will complain that they can't afford this, but if they can afford a maid then they should be able to afford it.
Allow maids to live outside the home. Lets allow maids to live 5 people to a flat. Probably not ideal but they will prefer it over living with employers.
Also it will become like an office job and open to issue such being late, comutation cost and time etc.
Excellent idea, Alex - from our family's experience employing maids, we would much prefer this option.
You're lucky to leave work on time in Hong Kong. The working culture in Hong Kong is "Hard Work" In other words "Slavery". The workers are expected to begin work on time, and leave work as late as the boss allows.
I have great sympathy for those who are slave in their employment to their boss. Bosses in Hong Kong should recognize that workers working long hours that their feeling is quite different from their own. Bosses work in a lighter frame of mind because they are boss. They can endure long hours better. Furthermore, bosses who own their business live integrated with their work / business. They are compensated by the notion that more they work the more they will make. For their workers they work with a fixed income, and the threat of losing a job is always there. Such working condition for both bosses and workers are very much a Hong Kong culture – say, mostly when a company is owned by Chinese who exert their power over workers instinctively trapping for a live-in employee. Again it is a feudal behavior that needs to be modernized.
Civil servants in Hong Kong as we know can go home on time from work and get Saturday and Sunday off (by rotation?). The government should instill such civilized working condition for every employee. Set up a ‘working hours patrol’ and check the working hours and fine those companies that abuse their employees. Yes, I encourage for the abused get your friend to make a phone call to whistle blow for a visit by the patrol. Reform the culture? You and your family should come before your unreasonable boss.


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