Racial discrimination dies slowly, but its demise can be hastened by revised laws and policies. The demonstration on April 5 indicated the frustration of foreign domestic helpers, but was wrongly attributed to one person's indiscreet remarks. Actually, official policy encourages discrimination.
The two-week rule, introduced many years ago, is discriminatory today. It permits an employer to fire a helper on scant evidence, but gives the helper little time to find a job.
Helpers dare not report harsh treatment, mental or physical abuse, long and exhausting working hours, or lack of sufficient food, because that means immediate termination of her contract by the employer and submission to the two-week rule unless she sues the employer.
If the helper sues the employer on serious charges, the employer may immediately find a new helper; but the helper is not permitted to find a new or part-time job until judgment is given in her favour. This situation could be ameliorated by allowing the helper to seek a part-time job, with an employer whose helper is on statutory home leave and desperately in need of a temporary helper. It would also help an employer's need for a substitute.
A helper waiting for her case to go to court, often a year or more, may find it impossible to seek justice because she is no longer allowed to work to support her family overseas.
Another sore point is the levy and minimum wage of helpers. Regardless of the reasons for the levy and the minimum wage, these rules resulted in most employers reducing the helpers' salaries to the minimum in order to recoup the levy from their helpers.
However, when the levy was suspended, it was again the employers, not the helpers, who gained. Some helpers who were earning HK$3,860 in 2001 are still earning only HK$3,500.
I am fully aware that some employers treat their helpers well, but I believe they are a minority. Many others criticise helpers for buying their own homes from their earnings, as employers themselves probably do from theirs. That merely indicates a discriminatory attitude.
Elsie Tu, Kwun Tong