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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Philippine official moves to quash reports mainland China will offer domestic workers salaries three times higher than Hong Kong’s

Labour undersecretary says reported wage level of HK$15,500 a month is incorrect, as mainland mulls opening market to Filipino helpers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 August, 2017, 11:02pm

A top Philippine labour official has moved to allay fears in Hong Kong of a severe shortage of domestic helpers by pouring cold water on reports that Beijing was planning to offer salaries almost four times higher for the same jobs on the mainland.

The Philippine Star newspaper reported earlier this week that the mainland was set to open up the labour market in five major Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, to Filipino helpers and dole out 100,000 pesos (HK$15,500) a month to entice them.

But Philippine labour undersecretary Dominador Say on Tuesday told the Post those figures were not correct. He did however confirm that a representative from the Chinese embassy in Manila had visited his department last month to discuss a preliminary idea to allow Filipinos to work as helpers in five cities.

Talks with the Chinese official were exploratory and discussions would continue next month when a Chinese delegation was due to visit the Philippines, he said.

“We talked about the possibility of hiring Filipino workers in China,” the undersecretary told the Post.

Say did not specify how much Filipino workers would be paid on the mainland under the plan.

The report by The Philippine Star caused a stir in Hong Kong, with unions warning that Filipino domestic workers might choose the mainland over the city because the statutory minimum wage for domestic workers in Hong Kong was only HK$4,310 a month.

But advocacy groups for domestic helpers said Filipinos would still prefer Hong Kong in many cases because the city had an established mechanism to ensure they were protected.

Filipino domestic helpers may soon be allowed in China

Eman Villanueva, a spokesman for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body in Hong Kong, said Filipinos would surely choose mainland China if they were offered HK$15,500 a month.

“But if the wages in Hong Kong and mainland China are similar, there is no incentive for job seekers to choose the mainland unless the working conditions are better there,” he said. “I am not saying no one will be going to work on the mainland, but if you are already working in Hong Kong, you may choose to stay here.”

Since August last year, Guangdong province has allowed foreigners, as well as people from Hong Kong and Macau, to hire foreign domestic workers.

The undersecretary was quoted by the Manila Bulletin newspaper as saying that the Chinese official he met had noted many Chinese families could now afford to hire Filipino workers. Those families were often attracted by Filipinos’ culture and their proficiency in English, which could help their children with their studies, he said.

Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of Technic Employment Service Centre in Hong Kong, said the mainland did not have a statutory minimum wage for foreign domestic workers. But those already working there were usually paid between 6,000 and 7,000 yuan a month, a level employers and recruitment agencies had come up with themselves.

‘Hire more foreign helpers to solve Hong Kong’s elderly care crisis’

“But even though the wages are better, it has been difficult to recruit domestic workers to work on the mainland. There is an established system in place in Hong Kong in terms of recruitment, but not across the border. Besides this, domestic workers find it difficult to make friends there,” Liu said.

She did not think Filipinos would choose the mainland over Hong Kong if the Chinese government lifted the restrictions on employment.

In September last year, the Philippines’ labour minister Silvestre Bello said he wanted China to allow Filipinos to work legally in the country as domestic workers, revealing that up to 200,000 were already working in the country illegally.