Here in Hong Kong it is often said our city embodies the principles of free markets and supply and demand. It is odd, then, that the places to which we are linguistically, culturally and geographically closest - the mainland and Vietnam - are off-limits as sources for domestic helpers. Instead, the majority come from Indonesia and the Philippines. It is time to change this policy.
There is no good reason why the doors from both locations - or for that matter, any place in the world - should be closed. Employing a domestic helper is not a one-size-fits-all process. Communication and compatibility are central matters. Nor can it be said that any one place has a monopoly on training.
Some among us would like to employ maids who can fluently speak and read Chinese. This fits neatly with the government's aim of making mainland integration a smooth and painless process. Elderly parents originally from the mainland or Taiwan being cared for may find this comforting. It would also be beneficial for our children. The government's Central Policy Unit has been studying the possibility for some time, but has so far made no conclusions. Authorities have concerns that some people may try to break employment rules and bring in mainland relatives by hiring them as maids. The concerns are valid, but could be dealt with through enhanced enforcement. But these are worries that within a generation, when 'one country, two systems' no longer exists, will no longer apply.
The government inexplicably bans domestic helpers from Vietnam. This is despite a growing market elsewhere in the world for maids from the country, our closest neighbour. A recent survey by Hong Kong Shue Yan University found that 40 per cent of the 1,200 respondents supported Vietnamese maids working in our city. That is understandable given how close the Vietnamese language is to Cantonese, the cultural similarities and the love for Vietnamese food.
Authorities put the bar down to 'security risks'. That was a reasonable excuse during the years when Hong Kong was awash with Vietnamese boat people, but two decades have since passed. Such discrimination against Vietnamese is unwarranted. We should be building friendships with other governments, not alienating them with such policies.
Maids are employed to take care of children and elderly relatives and to keep our homes clean and tidy. They live with us, so there needs to be understanding on both sides. Some of us find communicating in English beneficial, others want Cantonese speakers. Putonghua, an option not available, may be preferred.
Where domestic helpers come from should not be an argument. Our concerns should be that they are trained to do the job, can properly communicate with employers and can perform the duties expected of them. If we want to employ from the Philippines or Indonesia, that is our prerogative. So, too, should be the case if we want a maid from the mainland or Vietnam or any other country of our choosing.