Hot Topics: Foreign domestic workers who test positive for Covid-19 in Hong Kong forced to sleep outside

  • Some helpers have been sacked by employers after testing positive, others denied treatment at hospitals, says coalition of groups representing migrant workers
  • Concern groups revealed last Tuesday they were struggling to find accommodation for domestic workers who were infected and had nowhere to quarantine
Doris Wai |

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For the city’s domestic workers, the fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic has been especially difficult. Photo: Dickson Lee

Hot Topics takes an issue that’s being discussed in the news and allows you to compare and analyse different news articles and viewpoints on the subject. Our questions encourage you to examine the topic in-depth and can be used on your own, or with a friend.

Context: Hong Kong foreign domestic workers ‘abandoned’ in virus crisis

Hong Kong’s foreign domestic workers are being “abandoned” amid the fifth wave of coronavirus infections sweeping the city, according to several migrant workers rights groups. They said some foreign domestic workers were forced to sleep rough or were denied treatment after testing positive for the coronavirus.

The city is currently in its worst-ever coronavirus outbreak, registering thousands of confirmed cases a day.

Hong Kong relies on some 350,000 foreign domestic workers. Most of them are women from the Philippines and Indonesia who cook, clean and care for their employers’ families. Foreign domestic workers must live with their employers, cannot swap jobs easily and are only entitled to one day off every week.

Earlier this month, a coalition of groups representing migrant workers said in the current outbreak, some workers had been sacked by employers after testing positive, forcing them to sleep outdoors. Others found themselves denied treatment at hospitals because they had lost their jobs.

A domestic worker who tested positive is forced to sit outside North Lantau Hospital after being denied treatment. Photo: Handout

Activists said many employers were refusing to let their domestic workers leave often cramped flats even on days off, while some had been fired for taking their rest days.

“For us, staying home means we have to work,” said Dolores Balladares Pallaez from the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body.

The coalition said Hong Kong police had increased social-distancing fines each weekend for domestic workers, adding that penalties could be higher than their monthly wage.

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in a press conference that employers should ask domestic workers to stay home during their Sunday rest days and warned that law enforcement would “not show mercy” to those violating the two-person gathering limit.
Staff writer and Agence France-Presse

Question prompts:

  • Based on Context, list TWO ways Hong Kong’s foreign domestic workers are being “abandoned” amid the city’s fifth wave of Covid-19 infections.

  • What problems might domestic workers face if they are required to take their days off at home? How does this compare with how most other workers in the city spend their rest days?

Your Voice: Domestic workers deserve pay rise (short letters)


Illustration: SCMP

Question prompts:

  • Using Context, explain why the domestic helper in the cartoon was unable to go for a mandatory Covid-19 test or to get vaccinated. What might this imply about how Hong Kong employers generally treat domestic helpers?

  • Based on your answer above and your own knowledge, suggest ONE thing the city’s government could do to address this issue.

Hot topics: Hong Kong freezes domestic worker wages for second straight year

News: Domestic workers denied treatment, forced to sleep rough

The number of domestic workers needing help with home quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 ballooned to nearly 70, concern groups revealed last Tuesday.

One of such is Anna*, 35. She was left to sleep at a park for two nights after receiving an SMS message confirming she had contracted Covid-19 on February 15, but was scheduled to fly back to the Philippines the following day.

She was turned away from a public hospital as it was at full capacity and was advised to quarantine at home as she had no symptoms. She also tried to reach out to the Philippine consulate for help. After NGOs stepped in, Anna was placed at a shelter on February 17, and was able to take a rapid antigen test that produced a negative result.

The government’s pandemic strategy has left the city’s domestic helpers without information on what to do if they test positive for Covid-19. There is also no directive to employers on how to assist them with self-isolation or admittance to hospital.

A domestic worker sleeping outside North Lantau Hospital has received support from HELP for Domestic Workers and is now in a shelter. Photo: Courtesy of HELP for Domestic Workers

A migrant domestic worker coalition of more than 14 NGOs is working together to address the needs of the city’s domestic workers during the outbreak.

Eni Lestari, chairwoman of the International Migrants Alliance and a domestic worker herself, said her peers had been helping families throughout the pandemic.

“Now we are being neglected; we are being denied services; we are being abandoned,” she said, adding consulates were slow to provide information and support.

NGOs told the media they were trying to secure alternative accommodation for the workers, including university dormitories or religious retreat housing, but were frustrated by social-distancing rules and red tape.

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On Tuesday night, 14 workers were at risk of being homeless as shelters filled up, said Manisha Wijesinghe, executive director of HELP for Domestic Workers.

At one shelter, 11 domestic workers were crammed into a single room, she said, emphasising the situation was “not ideal, especially if people were sick”.

Meanwhile, the Labour Department said it was coordinating with relevant consulates to provide the necessary assistance for infected foreign domestic workers who were no longer employed.
*Names concealed at the request of interviewees.
Staff writer

Question prompts:

  • What does Lestari mean when she says: “Now we are being neglected; we are being denied services; we are being abandoned”? Explain using News, Context and your own knowledge.

  • Why are NGOs limited in what they can do to assist domestic workers who test positive for Covid-19? Identify TWO other groups that could do more to address this urgent situation.

Hot Topics: Hong Kong’s public health care system on the brink

Issue: Firing Hong Kong domestic workers with coronavirus ‘immoral’, says Philippines consul

The Philippines’ top diplomat in Hong Kong said last week it was illegal and “immoral” for residents to fire and kick out domestic workers who tested positive for the coronavirus, after charities said that foreign domestic workers were being “abandoned” amid the Covid-19 wave.

Consul General Raly Tejada said the consulate had helped 31 Filipinos who sought its help for hospitalisation or access to isolation rooms, as of February 22.

It was also looking into the cases of “around three to five” Filipinos whose employment contracts were allegedly terminated after they tested positive, he told an online news conference streamed on February 22 on Facebook.

Domestic workers comply with social-distancing rules amid the fifth wave of the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Edmond So

“If it can be proven that they were asked to leave because of their sickness, this can be considered an illegal dismissal under the employment ordinance in Hong Kong,” he said.

He added: “We are proactively engaging also the employers to explain to them that terminating their employees in these difficult times especially when they are positive is not only illegal. It is immoral.”

“Many of them have been convinced to take back their employees and to make sure that proper care ... is given to them,” Tejada said, without giving details.

He had previously appealed to all Hong Kong employers to follow the law and “exercise utmost compassion in these trying times” if their helper tested positive for the coronavirus.

Opinion: Hong Kong needs to do more to protect the city’s domestic helpers

Separately, the Indonesian consulate said it was in “intensive communication” with the Labour Department to seek help for domestic workers, especially those who had contracted Covid-19. The consulate said it was concerned about reports of employers dismissing sick domestic helpers or forcing them to leave their living space.

Labour authorities did not provide an estimate on the number of domestic workers who were terminated from their job after testing positive for the coronavirus.

A department spokesperson said employers should not dismiss domestic helpers who had tested positive and told them to continue to provide medical care and living space as part of employment regulations.
Staff writer and Agence France-Presse

Question prompts:

  • Although this is illegal, why might some employers have dismissed domestic workers who contracted Covid-19 instead of providing them with medical care? Explain your answer using Issue, News and your own knowledge.

  • Should the Hong Kong government or the respective consulates be responsible for giving information and assistance to domestic workers who test positive for Covid-19? Explain using News and Issue.

Your voice: Migrant domestic workers deserve our respect


  1. Consulate: a type of diplomatic mission in a country where a foreign government official works and looks after the people from their own country. Its role includes protecting the interest of citizens staying in the host country; issuing passports and other related documents; as well as to facilitate trade and friendship between people from the two places.

  2. Domestic workers: also called domestic helpers. Their responsibilities usually include cleaning, cooking, and taking care of children, elderly or sick family members. The minimum monthly wage for domestic workers in Hong Kong is currently set at HK$4,630. If their work contract is terminated, they are permitted to remain in the city for two weeks or the remainder of their permitted stay, whichever is earlier.

  3. Employment Ordinance: laws governing conditions of employment in Hong Kong. Every employee is entitled to at least one rest day (a continuous period of no less than 24 hours when the employee can be absent from work) in every period of seven days. If an employee is required to work on an agreed rest day, the employer must replace it with another day. An employer is also prohibited from terminating a contract of employment during the employee’s paid sick leave.

  4. Fifth wave: refers to the current Covid-19 situation in Hong Kong. The fifth wave of infections started to emerge at the end of December 2021 with the coronavirus spreading from two aircrew members who were exempted from hotel quarantine. Local infections started to soar from mid-January, and in February, the number of daily infections in the city grew exponentially, breaking daily records set in previous waves.

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