Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Hong Kong domestic helpers call for 27.6 per cent pay rise, bringing monthly salary to HK$5,500

Representatives say minimum wage only increased by HK$450 in past 18 years, and current levels cannot keep up with rising costs of living

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 August, 2017, 4:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 August, 2017, 11:46pm

Domestic helpers in Hong Kong on Friday called for a 27.6 per cent pay rise, which would bring their monthly wage to about HK$5,500.

The move comes ahead of an annual salary review by the Labour Department.

In a meeting with the department, 12 representatives of more than 350,000 domestic helpers in the city also asked for their food allowance to be more than doubled to HK$2,500 from the present HK$1,037.

However, none of the nine department officials in the one-hour meeting promised anything concrete, according to Eni Lestari, spokeswoman of the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body.

Domestic helpers are not our slaves

“They only said that they cannot commit to that much of an [increase],” Lestari said, adding that the minimum wage for domestic helpers in Hong Kong only rose by HK$450 over the past 18 years.

The meeting was the only one involving officials and representatives of domestic workers prior to the announcement of the annual revision at the end of next month.

Last year, the government increased the minimum wage by 2.4 per cent to HK$4,310 a month, and the food allowance by 4.2 per cent.

“We appreciate the past increases made but these have been too little to catch up with the rising cost [of living],” Lestari said.

Latest government statistics show that a family of three in Hong Kong spends at least HK$27,627 per month, or HK$9,209 per person on average.

The representatives of domestic helpers argued that their monthly wage only accounted for about 46 per cent of the average expenditure of a person in a family of three.

Una Yunengsih, a 36-year-old Indonesian helper, said she had HK$1,500 to spend every month after sending HK$2,000 back home to her family and saving HK$1,500.

“Most of my pocket money, about HK$400 to HK$500, will be spent on phone cards because I need to contact my family via the internet,” Yunengsih said, adding that she shunned pretty clothes in shops to avoid the temptation to spend more.

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The representatives called on the government to regulate the quality of food and living conditions for domestic helpers.

“The worst employer I had in Hong Kong gave me no breakfast and only noodles for lunch,” Yunengsih, who has worked for four families in the past decade, said.

“Kitchens, cupboards, toilets, floors, rooms for pets and other inhumane places should be forbidden,” Lestari said.

She added that domestic workers forced to sleep in such places should be allowed to change employers instead of being dismissed after they air their grievances and are told the accommodation did not violate the contract.

Lestari also criticised the Labour Department for holding the meeting on a weekday instead of Sunday when more helpers are free to join the consultation on their day off.

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She said domestic helpers would hold a rally at 3pm on September 3 to express their concerns and put forward their requests.

More than 1,000 domestic helpers are expected to join the march, which will begin on Chater Road and end at the Labour Department office on Pier Road in Central.

The department said it would have to strike a balance between affordability for employers and the livelihoods of foreign domestic workers in reaching a decision.