Domestic helpers in the city are treated as "cheap labour" and should get a wage increase or pay parity with Hongkongers on the minimum wage, the workers' representatives say. Eman Villanueva and Eni Lestari, of the Asia Migrants' Coordinating Body, said the monthly minimum wage for the more than 300,000 domestic helpers in the city should go up to HK$4,500, from the current HK$4,010 - or the HK$30 hourly minimum wage for Hongkongers should cover helpers. "If you consider the inflation over these years, people will realise that the value of our wage has gone down so much," Villanueva said after a recent meeting with the Labour Department, which is reviewing helpers' wages. A recommendation is expected by the end of this month. "The government should raise our wages and send a clear message that the helpers should not be treated as cheap labour. Our work should be valued more." Villanueva was paid HK$3,200 a month as a helper when he came to Hong Kong from the Philippines 23 years ago. In more than two decades the monthly minimum wage for helpers has gone up to HK$4,010, and was only HK$3,920 until last year. When Lestari came to the city from Indonesia in 1999 she was paid only HK$2,000 a month, about HK$1,000 less than the amount she was supposed to get by law at the time. "The shortage of helpers will get worse because Hong Kong is no longer a competitive place to work. A lot of Filipinos who are already in Hong Kong, a significant number, have moved to Canada," Villanueva said. In Canada, the minimum wage for helpers is the same as for the locals, which differs among provinces but is about C$10 (HK$71) an hour. "The helpers [in Canada] get the same hourly pay and work eight hours a day only … so the Hong Kong government is lying when they say it cannot be done," Villanueva said. Hong Kong law requires helpers to live and work in their sponsor's home. They are normally on call 24 hours a day, with eight hours off one day a week. "The problem with the government is that they always want to compare the city with less developed countries like Malaysia and Singapore. But Hong Kong's economy is not comparable to them," Villanueva said. Lestari and Villanueva said salaries in the Philippines and Indonesia had gone up sharply. Jobs at telemarketing call centres in the Philippines pay HK$3,500 to HK$5,000 a month. They said after their monthly expenses, helpers often did not have much money left to send to their families back home. Lestari sends HK$1,500 to her family in Indonesia every month. She then pays HK$600 for food, HK$500 for transport, and HK$300 for toiletries. Last month, agencies supplying maids in the city reported that it was becoming increasingly difficult to hire Filipino helpers, as they were choosing factory jobs in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, where they are paid more than in Hong Kong. Maids from Bangladesh and Myanmar, brought to the city to boost a shrinking workforce, were returning home months after arriving, agencies said. A Labour Department spokesman said the department would take into account all factors, including "the relevant income movement, price change and labour-market situation" before deciding how the wage should be adjusted. As to why the city's hourly HK$30 minimum wage did not cover the helpers, he said the government considered the helpers' distinctive work pattern: that they work and reside at the employer's house and are spared the cost of commuting. The helpers also receive benefits such as free food, medical care and accommodation, the spokesman said. In January, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung rejected calls to lift the live-in rule for foreign domestic helpers. He insisted the requirement was a key condition that had been agreed upon by his bureau, the Security Bureau and the Immigration Department.