HK$100 pay rise for domestic helpers? Gosh, we’re generous!

Yonden Lhatoo is far from impressed by the latest wage increase for the city’s foreign domestic helpers, arguing that Hong Kong can surely afford to be much more magnanimous

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 September, 2017, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 September, 2017, 10:38pm

Let the trumpet sound and the city rejoice. Hong Kong is raising foreign domestic helpers’ salaries by a whopping HK$100 per month.

The monthly minimum wage for indentured servitude is going up by 2.3 per cent to HK$4,410.

Those who get a food allowance instead of free food from their employers, as stipulated in their contracts, will be paid HK$16 more per month to at least HK$1,053 from now on.

It’s a far cry from the 27.6 per cent pay rise to about HK$5,500 a month and a doubling of the food allowance to HK$2,500 that domestic helpers were asking for.

As far as the government is concerned, it’s all fair and square, “having taken into account Hong Kong’s near-term economic outlook, as well as affordability for employers on the one hand and the livelihood of foreign domestic helpers on the other”.

The last pay rise for them was another HK$100 increment a year ago, so I guess everyone’s conscience is clean.

Such generosity in a city where you’re assaulted daily by privilege, affluence and crass consumerism all around.

This wage increase breaks down to HK$25 a week. What can you buy in “Asia’s world city” for such a princely sum these days?

When the new minimum hourly wage of HK$34.50 (for the rest of us, not foreign domestic helpers) took effect in May, there was no shortage of outrage over the stinginess of a HK$2 increase from the level set two years ago.

We put it into context by pointing out that it wasn’t even enough to pay for a single MTR trip from Hung Hom to Lo Wu (HK$38.10), two choices of roasted meat with rice at fast food chain Fairwood (HK$38), a medium-sized caffè latte at Starbucks (HK$38) or a pork chop bun at Tsui Wah cha chaan teng (HK$42).

Try putting that extra HK$25 a week into context, considering that helpers’ working hours are effectively unlimited, because, as live-in help, they’re on call any time of day or night.

Public opinion is divided, as reflected in our ever-boisterous comments section.

“Domestic helpers in Hong Kong are essentially immune to inflation. Rent, utilities and food are all paid for by the employer. Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the world. It is the employer who is bearing the burden of rising costs of living in Hong Kong,” writes one reader.

Another writes: “I do not think that we are kidnapping foreign domestic helpers and forcing them to work here in Hong Kong. This is the salary we offer and they can choose.”

To which a more sympathetic reader replies: “Domestic helpers do come to work voluntarily, and they are getting a better salary than they do at home. But a civilised society knows that there should be a limit to using people’s needs against them.”

Another adds: “Many enlightened employers already pay well above the minimum, so let’s set a higher bar for all to rid us of this shame.”

I remember the ruckus back in 2011 over a photograph of a Singaporean military recruit in full uniform with his maid lugging his big backpack for him.

There was serious soul searching over whether this was a nation of “softies”, as well as some hilarious parody, such as photoshopped images of Singaporeans soldiers marching to war in serried ranks, with lines of domestic helpers following in formation, carrying their military field packs like army mules.

We pay our helpers better than Singapore, but, alas, we tend to exploit indentured servitude just as much.

Take, for example, the latest survey showing that 80 per cent of primary pupils in Hong Kong are carrying school bags that are way too heavy for them.

Poor kids, but guess who’s lugging all that luggage. Pay them, properly, for pity’s sake.

Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post