Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Organisation shedding light on Hong Kong domestic workers’ maternity rights, ending hidden pregnancies and secret births

They are entitled to 10 weeks of maternity leave and can pay just HK$100 a day to stay in a public hospital for birth

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2017, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 January, 2017, 8:30pm

Unaware of their maternity rights and fearing deportation, many migrant domestic workers are forced to hide their pregnancies from employers and secretly gave birth in their apartments.

These are the clients of Carmen Lam from PathFinders, a local charity that protects the well-being of migrant mothers and their children born in Hong Kong. Lam, the senior community development manager, said these situations were avoidable if only the women were made aware of their rights.

“Domestic workers enjoy the same rights as the locals,” she said. “They are entitled to 10 weeks of maternity leave...They only need to pay HK$100 per day [to stay in a public hospital for birth].”

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With a HK$570,000 donation from Operation Santa Claus, the annual charity campaign organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK, PathFinders will be continuing its community outreach programme this year, informing migrant workers on their maternity rights and various other health issues.

“For this project, we are aiming to target the 340,000 domestic workers in Hong Kong,” Lam said. “We’ll be going to NGO partners at different churches and parks [on Sundays] to educate them.”

Pathfinders has partnered with over 15 local NGOs to roll out the education programme. Lam said each workshop would provide the women with two hours of free education on their maternity rights, pregnancy care, birth control, HIV, breast cancer and general women’s health issues.

She said awareness of migrant workers’ rights was weak across the city, with many people believing that they are not actually allowed to give birth in Hong Kong.

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“We don’t have the statistics. But I’d say up to 80 or 90 per cent of people in this city don’t know that domestic workers are entitled to maternity rights,” she said.

She said oftentimes employers and agencies were not aware of migrant workers’ rights. As a result, many workers are unlawfully terminated by their employers due to pregnancy.

She said those who are unlawfully terminated can file claims against their employers. But because filing lawsuits tends to be time consuming and costly, especially when unemployed, it is critical for workers to put pressure on employers early.

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Pu Jian Ling, the programme officer, said the organisation had been making progress, but there was still a lot of work to be done.

“In 2016, we received over 200 cases, which involved over 750 mothers and children,” she said. “This year we anticipate an increase of more than 20 per cent in terms of our overall caseload.”

She said, since its launch, PathFinders had served over 4000 clients, including 1800 children.