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City Weekend

Sleepless in Hong Kong ... on fridges and in toilets: worst places city’s domestic helpers have called a bed

This is despite labour rules in place, and a recognised international covenant

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 June, 2017, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 June, 2017, 1:35pm

Under Hong Kong’s labour rules, domestic helpers must live with their employer, who must in turn provide them with free, suitable accommodation with “reasonable privacy”.

Sleeping on make-do beds along corridors, or sharing a room with the opposite sex are both classified as unsuitable accommodation for such workers, according to the Labour Department.

But in reality, many of the city’s domestic helpers sleep in cramped quarters that wouldn’t make the grade. Their living conditions are so bad that some have compared it to modern slavery.

Hong Kong ‘turns blind eye’ as workers sleep in cupboards, kitchens, even toilets

Last year, a report by the charitable organisation Walk Free Foundation found at least 29,500 people out of a population of more than seven million were trapped in modern slavery in one of the 10 richest cities in the world based on gross domestic product.

According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is in effect in Hong Kong, no one should be held in slavery or servitude.

Yet some of the worst sleeping areas that the city’s domestic helpers face include:

1 Coffin-like rooms: a private space that barely qualifies as a room. Some domestic workers reported being made to sleep in narrow closet rooms with claustrophobic dimensions – just 170cm by 69cm.

2 Outside: some workers do not even get a space to sleep inside the house. One helper reported sleeping in a tiny room on her employer’s rooftop, with a ceiling that was only 1.2 metres high.

3 Kitchen cabinet: 3 per cent of those surveyed by non-governmental organisation Mission for Migrant Workers said they slept in the kitchen. In one case, a helper’s bed was in a cupboard above the fridge and a microwave oven. In 2015, the mission said some helpers were even forced to sleep on top of refrigerators.

4 Toilet: about 500 workers across Hong Kong sleep in the toilet, according to Norman Uy Carnay from Mission for Migrant Workers. Chinese language newspaper Ming Pao reported one worker having to make her bed on the floor of the toilet, sleeping next to clothes that were just washed and dried. Another worker was forced to spread a towel across the top of the washing machine and drier to sleep on, according to media reports.