My Take

Court's ruling enforces semi-apartheid

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 March, 2013, 3:28am

Hong Kong now has full judicial backing to continue treating foreign domestic helpers as a special class of people to be excluded from many basic rights accorded to legal residents who, in the jargon of the Basic Law, "ordinarily reside" in Hong Kong. Everyone can now breathe a sigh of relief, especially the government, following the judgment yesterday by the Court of Final Appeal - all except the maids and their supporters.

It is never good for a society's moral fibre when a whole class of individuals, based on race, nationality and/or gender, is permanently consigned to the status of servants. I know many people in Hong Kong are fine with that, but I do not want my children to automatically assume every Filipino or Indonesian woman they see is a servant.

Of course, those countries that supply the maids - who form a key pillar of their economies - have a lot to answer for by failing to create enough opportunities for the women to lead more fulfilling lives in their own countries. But recipient countries and cities benefit from their failure.

What if the court judgment had turned the other way and the maids were granted the same status as other expatriates? No doubt many people would fear that thousands of maids would flood into Hong Kong. The government would then curtail the number entering the city, leading to a shortage of supply and higher wages for those already here.

Others who started off working as maids could find new jobs where they could develop their talents. Local and expat families that could not find help or afford to hire maids would have to do their own household chores. Is that really so bad?

But without maids' help, what about childcare for mothers who must work, you ask? The government would then come under pressure to develop and pay for proper childcare and kindergarten services to help working mums, like most governments in developed and rich economies do. The maids' low wages have been, in fact, an excuse for the government to make us pay for what should have been provided by the state.

If equality is a condition of real democracy, then by virtue of our semi-apartheid system, we have proved ourselves unfit for it.