Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

No more window cleaning: domestic workers to march in Hong Kong after helpers die in falls from high-rises

Migrant body will also call for higher wages, limit on working hours and better accommodation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 September, 2016, 4:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 9:50am

Domestic workers in Hong Kong will take to the streets on Sunday to call for a ban on cleaning windows, following several deaths of helpers who fell from high-rise buildings. They are also demanding a pay rise, a limit on their working hours and a clear definition of “suitable accommodation”.

Some 400 to 500 people were expected to join the protest, which will start on Chater Road in Central at 3pm, organisers said. Demonstrators will then march to the Labour Department in Wan Chai.

“In recent months we have seen several deaths of domestic workers who were cleaning windows in high-rises. We want the Labour Department to come up with a regulation to forbid this,” said Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, an organisation that fights for the rights of migrant workers.

“Cleaning windows from the outside is not a domestic workers’ duty. It’s a responsibility of the building management ... It’s necessary to have proper training and safety equipment to do that sort of job,” Villanueva, who is a domestic helper from the Philippines, noted.

Early last month, a 35-year-old Filipino domestic worker fell to her death in Tseung Kwan O as she was reportedly cleaning the windows of her employer’s flat. At least four other helpers have died this year from work accidents or suicide, according to news reports analysed by the Sunday Morning Post .

In the protest, domestic workers will also be calling for a wage increase of HK$790. “We will reiterate our demands for a wage increase to HK$5,000 and the food allowance to HK$1,600,” Villanueva said.

The minimum wage for foreign domestic workers is currently HK$4,210 per month. According to the government, employers should also provide “suitable accommodation” as well as free food or a food allowance of HK$995 per month.

The alliance formed by migrants from Thailand, the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Indonesia also wants to see their working hours regulated.

The government conducted a three-month consultation on its working hours policy, which ended on July 24. “We want this regulation to cover all workers irrespective of their nationality,” Villanueva said.

A study conducted by non-profit organisation Justice Centre found that domestic workers in Hong Kong worked on average 11.9 hours a day. Almost 72 per cent were paid less than the minimum wage, the report noted.

The surveyalso showed that close to 40 per cent did not have their own room. .

Campaigners and workers want the government to clearly define what they mean by “suitable accommodation”.

Villanueva noted there were helpers living in “boxes” similar to “dog houses”. “Certain minimum standards should be followed and the criteria should be clearly defined,” he said.

Representatives of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body had a meeting with government officials about two weeks ago in which some of these demands were discussed. “We are hopeful that our demands will be met... There are no reasons to reject them unless this is an anti-immigrant government,” Villanueva said.