Hong Kong’s domestic helpers are routinely subject to exploitation on their legally mandated rest day because of a policy that requires them to live with their employers, an appeal against the government policy argued on Tuesday. Barrister Paul Shieh Wing-tai SC told the Court of Appeal the so-called live-in rule, which has been in place since 2003, “unacceptably heightened the risk of domestic workers being forced to work while they were supposed to be having their rest day”. Shieh was representing Filipino Nancy Almorin Lubiano, one of 380,000 domestic workers from abroad who work in the city. She lodged a judicial challenge against the policy in 2017, but lost her bid the following year at the Court of First Instance, leading to the present appeal. The barrister said the city’s domestic workers were often made to perform chores before heading out to meet friends, or as soon as they returned from social gatherings on their day off. Many were “too shy, too embarrassed, or too weak” to confront their employers about the imposition, he said. Shieh argued the right to rest days is enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC), which is partially implemented in Hong Kong through its employment laws and the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. He also pointed to a survey of foreign domestic helpers conducted by the Justice Centre, a local advocacy group for refugees and migrants’ rights, which found one-third of those polled had been asked to work during their promised rest period. About 66 per cent of those said they felt compelled to say yes when they were asked. “The fact that mean-spirited employers are the problem is not the answer,” Shieh added, rejecting arguments made by government’s lawyers that saw to lay blame with individuals rather than the system. But Benjamin Yu SC, representing the Department of Immigration, said helpers were free to stay out for the entirety of their 24-hour break so long as they did not set up a permanent residence outside. He went on to rebut Shieh’s referencing of ICESC guidelines, saying while the international treaty gave Hong Kong certain obligations on the world stage, it had no standing in local courts. Foreign domestic helpers have long called for a relaxation of the live-in rule introduced in April 2003. Before that, they had the option of living elsewhere so long as their employers agree. Many claim the arrangement heightens the risk of abuse, such as the shocking 2014 case involving former Indonesian domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, whose Hong Kong employer was sentenced to six years in jail for torturing her. Erwiana was in court on Tuesday to witness the appeal. But the government maintained the requirement is an essential feature of the importation scheme developed to meet the demand for live-in domestic workers, and argued lifting the rule could have serious repercussions for Hong Kong’s economy and society, including potentially putting pressure on the already strained housing market. The appeal continues on Wednesday before Justices Thomas Au Hing-cheung, Johnson Lam Man-hon and Aarif Barma.