Maids less happy with Chinese employers

A SURVEY of more than 1,000 Filipino maids has shown they are more satisfied with Western than Chinese employers, because Westerners make them work shorter hours and treat them more as part of the family.

The survey also found that maids preferred to work in Hongkong than in the Middle East or other Asian countries.

Chinese University's senior lecturer in sociology, Dr Cheung Tak-sing, distributed 1,700 questionnaires through four Hongkong churches to see whether Filipino maids thought they were treated differently by Western and Chinese employers.

He based his findings on the 1,015 questionnaires that were returned, and on 50 personal interviews with maids who had worked for both types of employer.

Dr Cheung said about 23 per cent of maids were very satisfied with their Chinese employer, compared with 45 per cent who were very satisfied with their Western employer.

About three-quarters of the maids said Western employers treated them as part of the family, while only one-third said Chinese employers treated them this way. About one-third said Chinese employers treated them as a tool.

About half the maids said they worked 15 to 16 hours a day for Chinese employers, compared with less than one-third who worked such hours for Westerners.

About half said they worked 11 to 14 hours for Westerners, who also tended to give them a few hours free to go shopping and on errands during the day.

The major difference was that Westerners were less likely to impose a curfew for returning home on their day off.

''Even the families of more than 10 expatriate military officers were described as quite generous and kind, even though military employers could have been expected to be more authoritarian and strict,'' Dr Cheung said.

Some Westerners allowed employees to eat at the table with them, but Westerners were also more likely to give maids money to buy their own food.

Treatment by Chinese employers varied greatly from very good treatment to maltreatment.

However, a few maids said they felt better treated by Chinese employers than by other Asian employers.

The most serious complaints about either group included being forced to eat leftovers, sleep on the floor without a mattress and just a thin blanket, or work long hours.

Few reported physical abuse or sexual harassment.

Dr Cheung would not speculate on why employers might treat their maids differently, but said some of the differences could be because more Westerners could afford to provide a room and pay a food allowance.

However, it could indicate different ideas on human rights, he said.

A spokesman for the United Migrant Workers, which represents about 2,000 Filipinos, said some Chinese employers had ''a Victorian attitude about the employer being master over the servant''.

''Domestic helpers view it more as an intimate relationship in which they are part of the family,'' the spokesman said.

Dr Cheung said the survey also found no significant differences in salaries, and that most employers in both groups paid bonuses.

Despite complaints, the maids said they preferred to work in Hongkong rather than Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.

They have more protection here because the Government has set a minimum wage of $3,200 per month.

Dr Cheung plans to conduct another 50 in-depth interviews and make a final report by the end of the year.