Employers of foreign domestic workers are unhappy with the prices they have to pay for hotel rooms, after the government announced a scheme requiring helpers to spend 14 nights in quarantine when they arrive in Hong Kong. With thousands expected to come into the city this month and next, employers and agents said low-priced rooms were scarce among the designated hotels, urging the government to include more with “affordable rates”. Rooms in the 36 hotels designated as quarantine facilities start at about HK$400 a night, with average prices between HK$500 and HK$1,000. Only seven have rooms below HK$500 a night. Helpers’ salaries top HK$5,000, but Covid-19 piles on pressure from home Of the 12,132 regular rooms and suites available for quarantine, only 1,553 are going for less than HK$500 a night. Under the scheme, which was announced last week and starts officially on December 22, employers will pay for their helpers’ 14-day quarantine, during which the new arrivals undergo two Covid-19 tests. Those who test negative can move into their employers’ homes, but must undergo a third test after five days – on the 19th day of their arrival in Hong Kong – and wait for the result. Some employers unwilling to pay current hotel rates have delayed bringing in their workers. Others are uncomfortable at having the helpers live with their families before the outcome of the third Covid-19 test is known. Thomas Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies, said between 5,000 and 6,000 foreign helpers were expected to have their arrivals delayed over the next two months. They included new helpers as well as those returning after spending time at home, he said, adding that some would have their arrivals delayed to at least mid-January, as employers waited for hotel rates to come down. “According to the agencies and clients I spoke to, 90 per cent prefer room rates below HK$400 a night,” he said. He added that the scheme’s mix of two weeks’ quarantine in a hotel followed by a week of home observation has created “unnecessary panic” among some employers. ‘No choice, we’re desperate for help’ Finance industry employee Fung, in his 40s, said he did not mind paying more to bring in his new helper as quickly as possible. The father of two said his family had been desperate since their last helper left in April. Their new Filipino helper was supposed to arrive last month, but his agent told him her arrangements were delayed by pandemic restrictions in the Philippines. She is now expected on December 22, and Fung has booked her a room at HK$600 a night at a hotel in Central and Western district. “We can’t delay any more due to the stress on family resources,” he said. Work-from-home arrangements during the pandemic helped, as it allowed Fung and his wife, who also works in finance, to share the load in looking after their son and daughter, aged seven and four. “But if the situation improves and we have to go back to the office, who’s going to take care of the kids?” he asked. Like Fung, May Chan, 36, a clerk, has already booked a room for her Filipino helper, who is due on December 19. She said she paid about HK$8,400 – or HK$600 a night – for a booking at the Wan Chai Dorsett Hotel. “Of course it’s expensive,” she said. “It is also more expensive as it’s peak season.” She is among those worried about the risk of taking their helpers home before their third test. “If the government thinks it’s not safe, why do the helpers have to stay in our homes [before clearing their final test]?” she asked. Packed like sardines, no way to get home: Hong Kong helpers stuck amid pandemic Helpers need protection too Checks showed that at least four of the hotels with lower-priced rooms are fully booked this month, though the Best Western Hotel at Causeway Bay still has rooms from December 23 onwards for about HK$480 a night. Hong Kong has cheaper hostels and guest houses, but many have been left out of the scheme because they are in buildings that also have residential homes, according to Kelvin Chan Cho-kit, secretary of the Kowloon Guesthouse Alliance. He thought it would be best if the government included more stand-alone hotels with rooms in the HK$500 to HK$800 range. The Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body, which supports foreign workers in Hong Kong, backed calls to have more affordably priced hotel rooms for domestic workers. But Eman Villanueva, its spokesman, also called for guidelines to protect the rights and welfare of migrant workers during this time. “In stressful situations like this, some employers will vent their frustration and stress on domestic workers,” he said. Guidelines were also necessary to prevent violations, as some employers might illegally deduct the quarantine costs from workers’ salaries, he added. While acknowledging the additional financial burden, Villanueva said he hoped employers would not delay their helpers’ arrivals, adding the workers desperately needed to start earning money to send home. “Deferring their arrival may mean their children have to stop going to school for a while or they cannot support family members who are sick,” he said. Aside from the Philippines, a large number of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong are Indonesian. Noting that it was mandatory for employers to bear their workers’ quarantine costs, the Indonesian consulate said it supported the Hong Kong government’s policy of sending helpers to be quarantined at designated hotels.