• Sun
  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 7:05pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 October, 2013, 3:36am

Pricing domestic helpers out of reach good for Hong Kong in the long run

If a miserly HK$90 rise will worsen Hong Kong's shortage of domestic helpers, then I say raise it by a couple of hundred, or even thousands. Some people are worried. I say it's a good thing.

Let the maids qualify for local minimum wages and enjoy the same permanent residency conditions. Once it costs as much to hire a foreign maid as it is to hire a local one, we can stop importing such a "cheap" source of foreign labour. In fact, they cost our society far more than it's often realised.

Instead of more than 300,000 maids, we will be much better off with 30,000 well-paid and motivated maids - like those sought-after and highly paid butlers. But most of us wouldn't be able to afford them. That's the whole point. Do your own household chores. Take care of your own children. Spend more quality time at home instead of slaving away in the office. So I am not advocating all this for the maids' benefit. It's just good for Hong Kong and our society to have far fewer maids. What do most maids do all day? Most try to do the minimum or less to get by because they get the same pay regardless. Some also steal now and then to get, in their own minds, their fair share. Why do you think so many pawn shops do such brisk business in Causeway Bay? I don't blame them. I would do the same, if not worse, if I were a foreign helper. There is no reward, only a dead-end job that sacrifices my youth and my chance at happiness in a life of my own.

Bosses know this, so many have to spend a disproportionate amount of time monitoring, disciplining and even abusing them to squeeze the most labour out of them to get their money's worth. I know there are many abusive employers. There are many unproductive and destructive maids too. It's a vicious cycle - blame it on the system.

To wean ourselves off our maid addiction, the government will have to introduce more realistic maternity and paternity leave and provide better-subsidised childcare and kindergartens. Companies will have to offer more progressive policies such as flexible work hours and even daycare to help workers who are mothers.

As it is, the exploitation of foreign maids lets the government off the hook and enables companies to exploit us wage slaves in turn.

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This article is now closed to comments

edbca
Bosses ...have to spend a disproportionate amount of time....abusing them [maids]. What an extraordinary statement. And there is this pretence that this article is not racist. Unbelievable.
johnyuan
The day when most of maids leave Hong Kong is the day that marks the liberation of slavery – maid’s bondage to us and us to our employer. That is to say Hong Kong has risen up with courage and common sense to become a modern city by applying minimum wage and working hours limit to all. Until then, Hong Kong remains a backward city engrossed in the human exploitation food chain.
…..
I am looking forward that day when I can runabout on Sundays in Central and Victoria Park and need not to disagree with good-hearted tourists that they think the off duty maids gathering in one spot is admirable for their joyful spirit. Simplistic without understanding.
johnyuan
AL not beating behind the bush but he is careless towards almost the end of his courageous comment citing mothers instead parents as workers who must be helped. Even though he was careful to qualify it by his precedent sentence that assistance includes maternity and paternity leave .
…..
For posters who crucify him for being gender bias is unnecessary but may be missing the larger picture of his thesis that Hong Kong will be better off when we all do our own housework and parenting. AL is right too about flexi-hours and daycare as a way to get there. After all they are proven success and being practiced since 1970s in the US. That is since women went to work outside of home – a history with no intended judgment on gender.
johnwe
Alex Lo is seemingly unable to fathom why wives don't do their own household chores. He ignores the wide range of employers' work for which the foreign maids provide relief by doing the domestic work. He is clearly ignorant talking about 30,000 well paid and motivated hardworking local maids. Motivated ? NO - the only motivation is to get thro the job as quickly as possible, Hardworking? NO - they work fast but the outcome is often slipshod rushed work, skipping steps etc. and you may need to clean up after them. If the agreement is for 5 hours, they'll be out of the door by 4 and a quarter hours. Despite well above minimum wage years ago, they are loud, rude and lay down the law in the employer s house; they won't do many essential house-keeping chores; they suddenly take leave to go on holiday with the husband or school holidays. They are never available at Chinese festivals and expect a big red packet and give you an open ended date when they will return at Chinese New Year. Their conditions are endless and develop as they go along. The article is so ill-informed, flippant and superficial that it is hardly worth reading if you have not read it yet.
johnyuan
In Hong Kong, reality is easy to accept but truth is difficult to stomach. Reality trumps truth anytime.
Greenwash
If most families did not have a helper, 1) some HK families would have no children (as opposed to the usual one child) because they would feel that they cannot afford to have only one income, and 2) even more Hong Kong people would be unhappy with their small flats. If Mums stayed at home with their small children - all day long in the tiny flat - there would be more pressure on the government to do something about the high cost of housing. Therefore, the government will not change the current policies.
richardg23
Rather inflammatory in tone, but your point, Mr Lo, is sound. Add $1000 a month to a maid's salary - get better trained and motivated maids, and a smaller number of employers who can afford it and know how to behave appropriately.
don67
I agree with Mr Lo. It is ironic to see that many dual income families think having cheap helpers allow them to become middle-class while at the same time, it is for this exact reason why they both have to work to maintain their lifestyle. When everyone has access to cheap domestic help, our bosses know this and think to themselves: "well, this woman hires a helper for $4,000, so she should still be willing to work for me even if I pay her only $10,000". In turn, her husband's boss says: "well this man's wife probably earns $10,000 a month, so I'm sure he can support his family if I pay him only $20,000." The fact of the matter is that bosses are underpaying HK employees knowing full well they have access to cheap helpers.
craigb
So, Mr. Lo's admission that if we hired him as a domestic helper he'd be lazy and a thief, "or worse," justifies his assertion that most domestic helpers are lazy and thieves? Please reference the news stories and court cases that back his assertions that most domestic helpers are lazy and thieves.
Camel
What kind of an expat is earning that less money?

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