Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Stop forcing domestic workers to clean windows, Philippine government insists after series of high-rise deaths

Meeting scheduled between labour ministers following growing calls in city to remove chore that ‘endangers lives’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 September, 2016, 11:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 9:38pm

The Philippines is pushing for Hong Kong employers to stop ­forcing Filipino domestic helpers to clean windows after several cases of maids plunging to their death from high-rise buildings this year.

Vice-consul Alex Vallespin said they would ask the government to take the dangerous practice off the list of duties for the city’s 180,000 Filipino maids.

He was speaking ahead of an expected meeting on Friday between the Philippines’ labour minister, Silvestre Bello, and his Hong Kong counterpart Matthew Cheung Kin-chung.

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While the agenda for the meeting was unclear, Vallespin said his consulate held regular talks with the Labour Department, and the request would be made.

“It endangers the lives of the workers ... we will request that it be excluded,” Vallespin said.

Last month, a 35-year-old Filipino maid fell to her death in Tseung Kwan O while cleaning the windows of her employer’s flat. Domestic workers’ groups said about four helpers have plunged to their deaths this year.

Labour attache Jalilo Dela Torre, who was assisting the minister with his visit, denied reports that a proposed window-cleaning ban would be on the agenda on Friday. He said the reports were “not true” and there was “no agenda yet”.

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“The main purpose of his visit was to meet the Filipino community on Sunday,” Dela Torre said.

Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, said he had personally experienced the dangers of ­window cleaning many years ago.

“I was working at a 2,000 sq ft flat and one side was facing the sea ... I had half of my body hanging outside in order to clean the windows properly,” he said.

Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of Technic Employment Service Centre, said she was told by dela Torre at a recent meeting that agencies should state in ­employment contracts that domestic workers do not have to clean windows. But she suggested the solution lay in the Hong Kong government educating domestic helpers on safety instead.

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A spokesman for Cheung said the Hong Kong government attached great importance to work safety and “all employees must ensure a safe working environment”.

“The Labour Department and the Occupational Safety and Health Council have all along been stepping up their publicity and educational efforts for both employers and employees to raise their awareness of the importance of occupational safety,” the spokesman said.