The first batch of domestic helpers from Bangladesh arrived Hong Kong in May via the Technic Employment Service Centre to work officially as maids. Photo: Edward Wong

Bangladeshi maids settle into city life

One employer says her only complaint is that her mother's carer works a little too hard

Frustrated with hiring domestic helpers who didn't work out, one Hongkonger took a keen interest in news that the city would bring in maids from Bangladesh.

The first group of women from the mainly Muslim nation arrived in the city in May via the Technic Employment Service Centre to work officially as maids.

They had been given three months of training, supervised by the Bangladeshi labour ministry, which included learning Cantonese, Chinese cooking and household chores. But most can only speak a handful of English and Cantonese phrases.

Monowara - who, like some Bangladeshis, uses only one name - was one of the first to arrive. She has been working for Vikki Ho since May, taking care of her elderly mother, who lives separately from Ho in a Tuen Mun village house.

Ho's only complaint about Monowara is that she works a bit too hard. "She said she didn't want to have a day off, but I told her that can't happen because it would breach the contract. She said she would rather make more money than have time off," the 54-year-old retiree said.

There are now about 50 Bangladeshis working in Hong Kong.

Ten of the new crop have been fired because of "misunderstandings" with their employers, according to the centre's managing director Teresa Liu Tsui-lan.

"Some people were dissatisfied because … they expected the maids' Cantonese to be very good. But how much could they learn in just three months?" Liu said. "Some employers lost patience and fired the [Bangladeshi] maids after a week or two."

As for Ho, she said she has no problem communicating with Monowara because she speaks simple English and Chinese.

"When she first came, we had to give her some instructions. But once she knew what had to be done, everything was fine. She is hard-working and patient. She reacts very fast as she has worked in Dubai and Saudi Arabia before," Ho said.

Monowara is still getting used to life in Hong Kong. Ho recalled with a chuckle the time she took her mother and Monowara to a Chinese restaurant - but Monowara refused to eat anything.

"She repeatedly said that she didn't want to eat anything and that she would just wait outside. We were puzzled, as she wouldn't say why," she said. "Then we found out it was because she didn't know how to use chopsticks … we got her a spoon."

But that has been the extent of any cultural difficulties, Ho said. She had had trouble with domestic helpers in the past, suspecting one of stealing HK$3,000 in cash.

Bangladesh is the second-largest garment exporting country in the world after China. Workers there can make about HK$500 to HK$700 a month in garment factories. In Hong Kong, they can earn around HK$4,000 a month as maids.

But its garment industry has been plagued by disasters recently, including the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in April that shocked the world and killed more than 1,000 workers.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Bangladeshi maids settle into city life