Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Whose side is Civic Party on, Liberals ask

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 August, 2011, 12:00am

The Liberal Party is ratcheting up its challenge to the Civic Party over its stance on foreign domestic helpers' rights to permanent residency.

Yesterday, the pro-government party published a quarter-page advertisement in three Chinese-language newspapers asking its rival what it would do if judges rule that domestic helpers resident in the city for seven years or more are entitled to permanent residency.

Human rights activists accused the Liberals of scaremongering, while the Law Society said political parties could risk contempt of court if they tried to prejudge the merits of the case. Law Society president Junius Ho Kwan-yiu said critics should avoid making comments that could risk contempt of court.

In their advertisement, the Liberals accused the Civic Party of evading the question of whether it believes foreign domestic helpers are entitled to permanent residency.

Gladys Li, a barrister and Civic Party founder, is representing the first helper to bring her case to court, Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a Filipino helper who has worked in Hong Kong for 25 years. The High Court will hear a judicial review of her challenge to the Immigration Ordinance.

'The Civic Party has never talked about its stance on the residency fight. Is it on the side of Hongkongers or on the side of foreign maids?' asked Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, the Liberal Party's vice-chairwoman, in the advertisement. 'The public has the right to know.'

Alan Leong Kah-kit, leader of the Civic Party, said domestic helpers should be given permanent residency if they could fulfil immigration requirements - including having a stable income to maintain their families and themselves, and pay tax.

Citing poll results released last week, the advertisement noted that 85 per cent of respondents opposed permanent residency for foreign helpers.

The advertisement included figures about the consequences of helpers getting permanent residency. They are based on the government's estimate that 100,000 domestic helpers would be eligible for permanent residency if the courts rule in their favour.

First, the Liberals claim that the monthly pay of domestic helpers would triple to HK$11,648 since permanent residents are entitled to the statutory minimum wage. Second, the government would need to spend an additional HK$8.68 billion a year on education and health care.

Third, welfare costs would rise by HK$6 billion a year. Lastly, 100,000 families would be added to the waiting list for public housing.

However, the Liberal's contentions are questionable. They based their wage calculation on the basis of helpers working 16 hours a day, 26 days a month. However, the minimum wage law exempts helpers who are given free lodging.

Also, the Liberals calculated the extra education costs arrived by assuming that small classes, with an average of 20 children per class, would be in place, even though the government has not decided whether to introduce them, let alone given a timetable for doing so.

The party assumed each helper has two children, one in primary school and the other in secondary school, respectively costing HK$31,200 and HK$40,000 a year, adding up to HK$7.12 billion a year.

Law Yuk-kai, director of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, urged the Liberals to show 'academic decency'. 'You need a basis for your judgment on the case,' Law said.

'These are dubious scare tactics. For example, many maids cannot build a family and raise children, as they are away from home for long periods of time.'