30 years and a HK$1,430 pay rise: Hong Kong’s domestic workers complain of ‘insulting’ minimum wage

  • The Hong Kong government announced on Thursday that the statutory monthly minimum wage will remain unchanged for a second straight year at HK$4,630 (US$595)
  • The decision has disappointed the city’s 370,000 domestic workers
Yanni Chow |

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Hong Kong’s domestic workers have been demanding better wages for years. Photo: Nora Tam

The Hong Kong government announced on Thursday that the statutory monthly minimum wage for Hong Kong’s 370,000 domestic workers will remain unchanged for a second straight year at HK$4,630 (US$595), disappointing them.

Organisations representing the workers have complained that the minimum wage level has not been raised sufficiently over the years, even as the cost of living has gone over the roof.

Domestic workers deserve our respect

In 1991, the monthly minimum wage was HK$3,200. That means the latest level of HK$4,630 is just HK$1,430 higher than the level from 30 years ago.

Here’s what you need to know about the issue:

There are about 370,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. Dickson Lee

Why was the level frozen again?

A government spokesman said that officials have looked at Hong Kong’s general economic and labour market conditions in the past year, as well as the city’s near-term economic outlook, including the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Taking into account the above, the affordability of employers and the livelihood of (the workers), the government has decided that (the level) should remain unchanged,” he said.

Hong Kong needs to do more to protect the city’s domestic workers

How are domestic workers treated during the outbreak?

According to a poll of about 1,000 domestic workers, conducted by the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body last year, more than half of the respondents said they worked more during the pandemic as their employers spent more time at home.

Some of the employers even asked to cut the workers’ wage, the organisation said earlier.

How did the workers react to the pay freeze?

Eman Villanueva, a spokesman for the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body, said the pay freeze was “unfair” and “insulting”, describing the new wage level as a “slave level”.

When he came to Hong Kong to work as a domestic worker in 1991, the minimum wage was HK$3,200 a month. Now, 30 years later, the level is just HK$1,430 higher.

Eman Villanueva came to Hong Kong in 1991 to work as a domestic worker. Photo: Edward Wong

“We are not asking for special treatment, not even an excessive wage, just a living wage,” he said.

“It is the government’s fault that we are one of the lowest paid in Hong Kong.”

Tell me more about the minimum wage scheme?

The government implemented the minimum wage scheme for foreign domestic workers in 1973 and set the level at HK$450 at the time.

The biggest cut happened in 2003, during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak, when officials lowered the level by HK$400 to HK$3,270.

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