Face off: Should the Hong Kong government raise the minimum wage for domestic workers?

  • Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a showdown that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint
  • This week, students discuss whether the pay for live-in domestic helpers should increase
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Wages for foreign domestic helpers were frozen for the second year in a row. The Hong Kong government blamed the economic slump caused by Covid-19 for the move. Photo: SCMP/ Sam Tsang

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For: Hailey Sit, 12, King George V School

Many children in Hong Kong grew up being raised by domestic workers. Although they are often ignored, these people are a part of the social fabric in our city. However, the wages paid did not justify the amount of work they did for their employers. To recognise their hard work, the government should raise the minimum wage for domestic workers.

Domestic workers’ wages have risen only $1,430 over a 30-year span, whereas inflation has gone up an average of 4 per cent every year since 1982 as the economy in Hong Kong has grown tremendously. The current salaries are making one of the lowest paid in Hong Kong poorer every year. The government should at least raise the minimum wage to keep up with inflation.

Most helpers come to Hong Kong in hopes of improving their own family’s living conditions, but their salaries usually do not end up helping much at all. The cost of living in Hong Kong is already high. WIth essentials in Hong Kong being much more expensive than those in their home country such as the Philippines, it is hard for workers to put aside extra savings to send home for families while sustaining a living here in Hong Kong.

Government freezes domestic helper wages for second year in a row

Moreover, since the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, the domestic workers have been working harder than before, making them more deserving of a higher minimum wage. Under the pandemic, people work from home, and children have their lessons at home as well. All the extra staying at home means extra work for their domestic workers. From a survey done 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. These hard-working people are definitely worthy of a pay raise in these hard times.

Thousands of miles away from their home, domestic workers’ sacrificed their precious time with their families in order to provide a better future for them. From doing housework to taking care of kids, they almost act as a second mother to the children in their employer’s families. The wages helpers get paid are no match for the sacrifices they make. Increasing the minimum wage not only can help impoverished families, but can also help workers to feel heard and acknowledged within the community.

Hong Kong must do more to protect domestic workers

Against: Roderick Yuen, 10, Ying Wa Primary School

Recently, the Hong Kong government announced that the minimum wage for domestic workers will remain unchanged at $4,630, disappointing some domestic helper groups. No doubt that the contribution of domestic helpers should be acknowledged, but is it the right time for the government to increase their minimum wage?

The economy of Hong Kong was hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and has not fully recovered. The city’s economic low point is reminiscent of the global financial tsunami in 2008 to 2009. As an aftermath, in 2009 and 2010, the minimum wage for domestic workers was also frozen, echoing the pay freeze this year. As such, the decision of the government not to raise the minimum wage of the workers is well-referenced.

Domestic helpers are the real heroes of Hong Kong

Some domestic helpers commented on the frozen minimum salary as “unfair and insulting.” In my opinion, freezing the salary increase is not a discrimination against the domestic workers. The statutory minimum wage rate, which is $37.5 per hour, in Hong Kong has also been stationary for the last two years, showing that the government is treating everyone equally. Domestic workers are a part of the same boat facing the impact of the pandemic with the rest of the city.

According to the annual foreign domestic helper salary survey 2021, conducted by HelperChoice, released in September, the average salary of domestic workers is $ 5,144, which is higher than the minimum wage regulated by the government. It is majorly due to travel restrictions, families in Hong Kong would offer a higher salary to domestic workers that are already in Hong Kong to avoid costs such as paying for the worker’s quarantine. Therefore, freezing the minimum wage for domestic helpers would not harm them in current circumstances.

Domestic helpers are subject to modern-day segregation

Most of the employers of domestic helpers are also working themselves, or even retired elderly. During the pandemic, the employers of the helpers also faced the problems of frozen salary, salary cuts or even unemployment. Raising the minimum wage of domestic helpers would thereby increase the economic burden looming over them.

Secretary for Labor and Welfare Law Chi-kwong, once wrote in his government blog that we should respect and show empathy to domestic helpers for their endeavors. I firmly believe that the government should raise the minimum wage for domestic helpers once the economy bounces back. But for now, as we are still affected by Covid-19 pandemic, it’s fair that the minimum wage for domestic helpers should not be raised.

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