A maid's life in Hong Kong is not easy. Most have to live in their employers' homes. More often than not, that means cramped sleeping quarters, little privacy, long hours and being on call at any time during the six working days a week. Their one day off, as a rule Sunday, is a precious time to get away from the drudgery to be with compatriots in the open air, usually in Victoria Park or the squares of Central. It is heartless to begrudge them this modicum of freedom, but there are those who do. They claim that domestic helpers are overrunning public places, blocking footpaths and roads, adding to congestion at public toilets, posing a threat to safety due to their numbers and, in general, being a nuisance.
Those making this assertion certainly have a point about the crowds. But they neglect to mention that the matter is of Hong Kong's own making. Our city now has more than 300,000 domestic helpers and the appetite for their services is ever-growing. But while the government has been easy-going about signing contracts, it has been less proactive in providing enough convenient places for helpers to socialise.
The result is an inevitable crush in meeting places favoured for cultural and sentimental reasons - which happen to be where Hong Kong people also like to go on Sundays. But it is wrong to suggest that the maids go somewhere else; this is their city as much as ours. They play an important and often overlooked role in its economy, allowing both parents to work, relax and exercise by taking care of children and grandparents and doing housework, cooking and shopping.
Instead of complaining about maids crowding our parks on Sundays, the discussion should be more constructive. We should be improving domestic helpers' conditions, bringing them in line with what we expect for ourselves. Consideration should be given to their receiving at least the minimum hourly wage, maximum daily working hours, overtime pay, as well as privacy when off duty.