Although foreign domestic helpers are among the lowest-paid workers in Hong Kong, the Government recently ruled that their minimum monthly salary would be slashed by $190 to $3,670, effective from February 3. The five per cent pay cut was in response to calls from employers' groups insisting that foreign domestic helpers share the economic burden of families affected by the recession. Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association and Provisional Urban Councillor Jennifer Chow Kit- bing had earlier urged the Government to reduce the then minimum wage of $3,860 by between 20 and 35 per cent. Secretary for Education and Manpower Joseph Wong Wing- ping said median household income fell five per cent in the third quarter of last year and the nominal wage index of service workers failed to rise for the same period. While welcoming the cut, Ms Chow said it did not go far enough. Ms Chow had argued that foreign domestic helpers in the SAR were the highest paid in the region. Maids in Singapore earn S$350 (about HK$1,600) a month. 'So even if maids give up 20 per cent of their income to help Hong Kong families in this critical time, they still get almost double what maids are paid in Singapore,' she said. Unionists and political parties have voiced strong objections to the pay cut. Federation of Trade Unions vice-chairman Chan Yuen-han said the reduction could 'create a chain effect on other local workers'. Unionist legislator Lee Cheuk-yan described the cut as meaningless. Legislator Andrew Cheng Kar- foo of the Democratic Party noted that foreign domestic helpers had not received any pay rise for the past two years. 'Those who cannot afford to hire a foreign domestic maid can employ a local helper,' he said. Filipino maids were concerned the new rule would lead to unscrupulous employers firing their helpers so they could hire new ones at the lower rate. 'Even without the wage cut, some employers usually terminate workers during the Lunar New Year while they go on holiday to save on wages. We expect that to be exacerbated now,' said Asian Migrant Centre co-ordinator Bien Molina. There are about 180,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, of which about 141,000 are from the Philippines.