Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Siu Sai Wan on Hong Kong Island labelled worst paying area for domestic helpers amid campaign for wage increase

But workers tend to earn more in general on Hong Kong Island and outlying islands

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 September, 2017, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 September, 2017, 8:14am

Employers living in Siu Sai Wan on Hong Kong Island’s northeast side pay the lowest salaries in the city to domestic helpers, a survey has found.

The average rate in the area was HK$4,315, just HK$5 above the minimum salary, it was revealed.

At the other end of the spectrum, employers in Sheung Wan, also on Hong Kong Island, seemed to be the most generous. Helpers working there received an average of HK$5,195, which was HK$885 more than the minimum.

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HelperChoice, an online platform connecting helpers and employers at no cost to the workers, analysed more than 3,000 job adverts posted between January and August, 59 per cent of which were by locals and 41 per cent by expats. The study came as the government was expected to announce a review of domestic workers’ minimum wage by the end of this month.

Helpers have called for a 27.6 per cent increase, from HK$4,310 to HK$5,500 a month.

We are just asking for a living wage ... just enough to have a decent life in Hong Kong
Eman Villanueva, Asian Migrants Coordinating Body

“We are just asking for a living wage. It’s not a wage that will make the worker rich or the employer poor. Just enough to have a decent life in Hong Kong,” said Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, an advocacy group.

“We hope the government will give it to us. Otherwise, we appeal to the kind-hearted employers to pay their workers accordingly.”

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Officials last year approved a 2.4 per cent rise in the minimum wage for foreign domestic helpers, from HK$4,210 to HK$4,310, leaving many disappointed. The same percentage increase was given a year earlier.

According to the HelperChoice survey, the mean salary offered to helpers in Hong Kong was HK$4,545, which was 23 per cent higher than last year.

Diamond Hill in Kowloon, Shau Kei Wan in northeastern Hong Kong Island, Yau Tong in Kowloon and Sheung Shui in the New Territories rounded out the areas where helpers were paid the least. Salaries ranged from HK$4,325 to HK$4,345 a month.

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In last year’s survey, Ma On Shan in the New Territories offered the lowest pay in the city.

Overall, the lowest average salaries were in North district in the northwestern New Territories, where the average rate was HK$4,371 – just HK$61 above the minimum salary.

Similar to last year, the study showed that domestic helpers tended to earn more on Hong Kong Island and on the outlying islands than elsewhere in the city.

After Sheung Wan, the next best rate was paid on Lantau Island, where helpers were offered HK$5,185 on average, followed by Stanley, Repulse Bay and Clear Water Bay.

Last year Stanley saw the best salaries but it now ranks third, while Victoria Peak, previously second best, fell to 12th position.

Domestic helpers’ experience affected their earning power. According to the study, the average salary was about HK$4,600 for three years of experience and HK$4,400 for two years.

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HelperChoice founder Laurence Fauchon said other factors led employers to pay a higher salary, such as “the number of children to look after, the types of household chores or the types of care duties for elderly people”.

“Specialised skills also play a big role in determining the salary,” she added. “For instance, drivers in Hong Kong are paid more than HK$7,570 on average as they are able to take on extra errands and duties such as taking the kids to school.”

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The best offer in the adverts analysed came from an employer living in Happy Valley, at HK$10,000.

Employers in Hong Kong must provide accommodation for their foreign domestic helpers, medical benefits as well as free food or a food allowance of HK$1,037 per month.

And they work hard too

About 76 per cent of domestic helpers in Hong Kong work more than 12 hours a day, and 17 per cent of those in this group put in more than 16 hours, a separate survey by the same agency found. Migrant representatives said such figures were clear indicators of “modern-day slavery”.

“This has been the overwhelming condition for most domestic workers,” Villanueva said, referring to the long working hours.

“Without proper working hours regulations and with workers forced to live in [with employers], domestic workers will always be overworked, underpaid and treated like modern-day slaves.”

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The survey – to which 1,180 domestic helpers responded online between August 4 and 8 – came soon after officials announced plans in June to standardise working hours for low-income employees. However, domestic helpers were not included in the proposals.

Villanueva said the workers “were angered and furious” about the exclusion. He argued the plans were motivated by “the prevalence of excessive working hours” in the city.

“It’s ridiculous to exclude one of the most exploited groups in Hong Kong,” he said.

The study showed 13 per cent of the helpers who were interviewed worked for more than a year with no holidays.

And only 4 per cent said they worked eight hours a day.

A Labour Department spokesman said domestic helpers had not been included in the government’s working hours proposals due to “the distinct working pattern and nature of live-in domestic workers, the potential socio-economic ramifications and the long-established policy for foreign domestic helpers”.