My Take

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

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 October, 2013, 3:36am

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.