Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Politicians should be on the side of helpers

Legislator Junius Ho’s plan to reserve domestic helper jobs for members of the ethnic minorities does not do justice to both groups. And if a society is judged by the way it treats outsiders, Hong Kong is still on a steep learning curve

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 July, 2018, 10:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 July, 2018, 10:57pm

Legislator Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is no stranger to political controversy. Just when members of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities went public about the difficulties they faced in getting good schooling and jobs, the pro-Beijing lawmaker suggested reserving 5,000 to 10,000 domestic helper jobs for them. These workers would not be required to live with their employers and would be paid 110 per cent of the minimum wage of HK$34.50 per hour, or about HK$7,000 a month for 22 days of work. Ho remained defiant despite a torrent of criticism. “If some NGO thinks my position is disrespectful or discriminatory, aren’t they treating Filipino and Indonesian maids with disrespect? Do they think this kind of work is suitable only for a lower or disadvantaged group of people?” he asked.

We are not sure who can follow Ho’s logic. But whoever links ethnic minorities with domestic helpers is not doing justice to both. This is not the first time lawmakers have come under fire for their faux pas on domestic helper issues. In May, Eunice Yung Hoi-yan, of the New People’s Party, was criticised after she had asked how officials could handle the “inconvenience” and “environmental hygiene” problems caused by domestic helpers “sitting, eating and sleeping” on the ground in public places on their days off. She later apologised for her remarks, seen by many as offensive, racist and discriminatory.

Let Hong Kong's ethnic minorities become house servants, lawmaker says

That foreign domestic helpers are not given the attention they deserve in the legislature is unsurprising. Although their population exceeds 370,000, their inability to vote means few lawmakers will speak up for them. Some even turn them into election issues or targets for political point-scoring. Not only does this not do justice to their contribution to the city, it also risks antagonising both locals and foreigners. Hong Kong would have been very different, both economically and socially, had we not opened the door to foreign domestic helpers. They leave behind their own families to take care of ours. They help raise our younger generation, enable mothers to stay in the workforce and help raise the social status of women. And as our society ages, they fill in as carers for the elderly.

If a society is judged by the way it treats outsiders, Hong Kong is still on a steep learning curve. Politicians have a duty to speak up not just for the locals, but also for those who contribute to the city.