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Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Lawmaker Eunice Yung’s brief apology to Hong Kong’s domestic workers ‘just not good enough’ says migrant leader

Protesters marched for an hour in blazing sun chanting ‘we are not slaves’ before Yung says sorry for calling them an inconvenience and a health hazard in a meeting lasting less than 10 minutes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2018, 6:55pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 10:59am

Pro-establishment lawmaker Eunice Yung Hoi-yan briefly apologised to Hong Kong’s domestic workers on Sunday, and was immediately criticised for not going far enough.

The New People’s Party legislator said sorry after offending many of the city’s workers last week during a Legislative Council meeting where she called their presence in public spaces an inconvenience, and an “environmental hygiene” problem.

Her comments were labelled, “discriminatory, racist and offensive”, by several groups representing Hong Kong’s domestic workers.

Eman Villanueva, who met with Yung on Sunday, implied that he did not believe the apology was genuine, and had only been made because her initial comments did not get the support she thought they would.

“She thought what she said [in Legco] would get support from employees, from people in Hong Kong,” said Villanueva, the spokesman for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body.

“But she didn’t. It’s just herself who is disrespecting domestic helpers.”

In response to Yung’s remarks migrant groups had demanded an apology, and about 150 workers took part in a planned protest on Sunday, marching from Central to the New People’s Party headquarters in Wan Chai.

Chanting, “We are workers”, “We are not slaves!”, “Legislator Eunice Yung, apologise now!” they walked for about an hour in the scorching heat that continues to assail the city, before seven entered the party’s headquarters and submitted a letter of appeal to Yung.

During a meeting that lasted almost 10 minutes, Yung spoke to the group in English, and said: “I didn’t intend to offend any domestic helpers, and if they felt disrespected, I am sorry.”

Then she left straight away.

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“It’s good that she said sorry, but it’s not enough,” said Villanueva, one of the seven who took part in the face-to-face encounter. “We want her and the party to either issue a public statement, or call a press conference.”

Talking to the Post after her brief appearance, Yung apologised again.

“I am sorry if my words made helpers feel unhappy. That was not my intention,” she said. Rather, Yung said she had been trying to help workers by highlighting the lack of facilities available to them.

Pressed on whether she would withdraw the phrases in question, Yung said: “I was only reflecting the opinion of some citizens from a neutral perspective, and meant no disrespect to the helpers.”

Moving ahead, Yung said she would continue to talk with the government about finding more spaces for migrant workers to use at weekends.

However, the barrister said she was undecided on whether to support relaxing living out restrictions for domestic workers, citing the need for “further study” into the issue. At the moment, it is mandatory for domestic workers to live with their employers, leaving them nowhere to go on their day off.

Although Yung said it was not her intention to offend, Villanueva said she was just playing with words. “Her remarks at the Legco meeting were clear, saying domestic helpers caused a disturbance and hygiene problems. She has no concern over our welfare.”

Villanueva demanded Yung and her party apologise publicly, and said he hoped they would take concrete action to improve conditions for workers, such as improving the standards of accommodation, allowing live-out arrangements, and regulation of working hours.

He also pointed out that the issue goes beyond Yung and her party.

“The Hong Kong government needs to address the long-standing issues domestic helpers are facing in Hong Kong,” Villanueva said, pointing to the contributions the 380,000 domestic helpers have made to the city.

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Meanwhile, two domestic helpers who have been working in the city for more than a decade, said they were “very disappointed” by Yung’s remarks.

Reja Barona, who has been working in Hong Kong for 18 years, said: “What she said is racist. She needs to apologise to us.”

Baneng Mendez, a 14-year resident, said: “Yung needs to apologise and back off with the way she thinks about domestic workers.”

Ng Koon-kwan, organising secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, believed Yung attacked workers to earn political points, and said the politician’s behaviour was “shameful and unethical”.

“It’s simply not true to say that domestic helpers are causing hygiene problems,” he said. “On Sundays I pass by the places they gather together and they always clean up afterwards.”