UN panel blasts Hong Kong for ignoring the rights of new immigrants, maids

Committee singles out treatment of maids and new immigrants in report that says the city has failed to implement international covenant

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2014, 4:19am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 5:23pm

A United Nations rights body has accused Hong Kong of not upholding human rights and failing to prevent discrimination.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights singled out groups like asylum seekers, foreign domestic workers, ethnic minorities, new immigrants and sexual minorities.

"The committee notes with regret that the Covenant [on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights] has not been incorporated into legislation and therefore its provisions are not directly applicable by courts and tribunals," the committee said.

The observations follow a meeting in Geneva last week.

They highlighted discrimination against new immigrants from the mainland, as well as the housing situation and poverty issues.

All obstacles to family reunions involving Hong Kong-mainland families should be eradicated to ensure "the widest possible protection of, and assistance to, the family", it said.

Referring to recent cases of abuse of foreign maids by their employers, it also called for immediate action to repeal rules that require the maids to live with their employers and give them just two weeks to find a new job before having to leave.

"The observations went into detail about discrimination against mainlanders, poverty, and housing issues new mainland immigrants suffer," said Sze Lai-shan from the Society for Community Organisation, who went to the committee's hearing in Geneva.

"The government has the responsibility to face these issues," she said.

"It's not just about implementing the covenant, it's also a big social issue affecting Hong Kong."

Sze said the committee was also shocked to learn that so many cage homes and cubicle flats still existed in Hong Kong.

The committee also recommended scrapping the waiting time for mainland migrants to apply for welfare, recently reduced from seven years to one after a court ruling.

Leo Tang Kin-wa, responsible for domestic worker affairs at the Confederation of Trade Unions, is not optimistic the government will scrap the two-week rule and live-in requirements for maids even after the United Nations weighed into the issue.

"Even after some abuse cases in Hong Kong shocked the world recently, the government has only said that it will beef up supervision of the agencies and carry out other measures," said Tang, organising secretary at the CTU. "It has stressed that it will not scrap the two rules."

A spokeswoman for the government said: "The HKSAR government respects the committee's views. We will make suitable judgments according to the prevailing circumstances and implement the committee's feasible and practicable recommendations in the light of Hong Kong's unique circumstances."