Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Hong Kong and Philippine officials stop short of ‘total ban’ on domestic workers cleaning exterior of windows

Two governments agree helpers should not be compelled to undertake ‘unsafe’ jobs following death of Filipino in August, but they decline to prohibit the practice completely

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 October, 2016, 11:34pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 9:31pm

The Philippines and Hong Kong have agreed not to introduce a “total ban” on domestic workers cleaning the exterior of windows, after a meeting of officials from both sides on Monday.

But a Labour Department spokesman said the two governments had agreed that “as a matter of principle” employers should not compel their workers to clean the outside of windows if the environment was “unsafe”.

In August a 35-year-old Filipino helper fell to her death in Tseung Kwan O while cleaning the windows of her employer’s flat. Domestic workers’ groups say four helpers have plunged to their deaths this year.

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“Both governments considered that reference could be drawn to overseas practices, for example, that employers must have grilles installed onto their windows and the cleaning of the exterior part of the windows should be done under the supervision of another adult to ensure safety,” the spokesman said.

The Philippine consulate did not respond to inquiries on Monday concerning the progress of the meeting, but last week it announced that a new clause would be added to the contracts of all Filipino domestic workers to spare them undertaking the job.

The Hong Kong government then requested that clause be delayed a month until November 14 so both sides could discuss it with other stakeholders including employers.

The Philippines’ labour and employment minister Silvestre Bello raised the issue with his Hong Kong counterpart Matthew Cheung Kin-chung when they met in the city last month.

Cheung acknowledged at that time that cleaning windows could be dangerous if workers were not careful enough, but he poured cold water on a proposal for a ban.

“A ban is not easy to implement, and also, we’ve got to remember, you’ve got to look at the practical side of the issue,” he said.

Last week however he stressed it was important to strike a balance between worker safety and the interests of employers.

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“In some cases, there may be situations where the windows are in a relatively safe place, for example, if situated on the ground floor of a house or with safe corridors outside and also if you have iron grilles [and] window bars – all these would certainly be useful preventive measures,” Cheung said.

Dolores Balladares Pelaez, chairwoman of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, said she welcomed the agreement but hoped a total ban could be implemented soon.

She said cleaning the exterior of windows was dangerous and should not be the responsibility of domestic helpers but instead property management firms.

“The safety of workers should be the first priority for both governments,” she said.

Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, chairwoman of the Employers of Domestic Helpers Association, said she believed employers in the city would be happy to provide such safety measures mentioned in the discussions between the two governments, and that therefore a ban was unnecessary.

Additional reporting by Danny Mok