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Lunar New Year

Call for employers to avoid Lunar New Year exploitation of Hong Kong’s domestic helpers

Maids often expected to do housework at homes of employers’ relatives during festivities, campaigners say

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 January, 2017, 11:55am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 January, 2017, 9:25am

As Hong Kong welcomes the Year of the Rooster, domestic helpers have called on employers to treat them with respect, hitting out at perceived growing discrimination over the years, as industry insiders warned of the legal pitfalls for employers during the festive period.

A spokeswoman for a helpers’ group said proper treatment could simply start with them not being expected to do housework at their employers’ relatives’ homes during Lunar New Year.

“Our wish is for Hong Kong to become a better place for domestic workers. We have been feeling very intense discrimination over the years,” Eni Lestari, spokeswoman of the Asia Migrants’ Coordinating Body, which pushes for domestic workers’ rights, said. “We want to be recognised and respected. We want to be treated as human beings.”

While the city saw no major domestic worker abuses in the past year after the 2014 case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih – whose abusive former employer was jailed for assault and criminal intimidation in 2015 – domestic workers fought tough battles with the Hong Kong government on issues such as window cleaning.

Pressed by domestic helpers’ groups and the Philippine consulate, the government finally announced in November that all maids hired or renewing contracts from January 1 could not be asked to clean the outside of any window above ground level.

At least four maids plunged to their deaths last year while cleaning windows at their employers’ flats.

As parents take their red-clad children to relatives’ homes for family dinners during the Lunar New Year, employers were warned of consequences if they take their maids along and ask them to do housework there.

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Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, chairwoman of the Employers of Domestic Helpers Association, pointed out that doing so would breach helpers’ contracts, even if employees were willing to do the work.

Yung said: “The employers could be put on the ban list if the workers file complaints to the consulates. The consulates may not allow any domestic workers to work for them in the future.

“Some workers like to help out cooking because they would get lai see packets. The employers need to be careful about that.”

The Lunar New Year public holidays this year fall on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. As domestic workers generally take their weekly day off on Sundays, that means some could be taking four days off in a row.

But Lestari believed very few helpers would be allowed to take four consecutive days off, as that would mean four days of having no one to do housework.

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Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of Technic Employment Service Centre, said employers must remember to give their maids compensated days if they work on public holidays.

“Domestic workers must receive a compensated day off. They are not allowed to be compensated with money,” Liu said.