Maid to be HK outsiders

Alex Wong, University of Hong Kong
Alex Wong, University of Hong Kong |

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The Court of Final Appeal's ruling means no domestic workers can apply for permanent residency.
I wrote a piece last year about the foreign domestic workers' initial victory in the court battle for permanent Hong Kong residency.

Evangeline Vallejos, now 60, who had worked in Hong Kong since 1986, had claimed the immigration law was unconstitutional for not recognising domestic helpers as "ordinarily residing" in Hong Kong during their stay here, and stopping them from applying - like other workers - for permanent residency after living in the city for seven years.

In 2011, a lower court backed Vallejos' claim. However, last year the Court of Appeal overturned this ruling. Last month the Court of Final Appeal, the city's top court, ruled no domestic workers have the right to apply for permanent residency.

Vallejos' initial victory came when a maid was still working for our family. My mum, like many Hongkongers, didn't think Filipino or Indonesian workers should have the right to permanent residence. Thousands of dissatisfied maids, like Vallejos, are not welcomed by the city, its citizens, or its law. As an editorial in the Philippines' Daily Inquirer noted: "You may work for us, you may serve us loyally, faithfully, for years on end, but you will never be part of us."

A "two-week" rule - part of Hong Kong's New Conditions of Stay states that foreign domestic workers shall be deported after two weeks of unemployment, irrespective of their years of service to the city.

The "live-in" policy requires employers to accommodate the helpers in their homes. In a land-scarce city like Hong Kong, employers often struggle to clear a corner, let alone a room. In the worst cases I've heard of, helpers sleep in the bath tub. Imagine if you spent the day scrubbing floors, picking up spoilt children after their ballet lessons. You work far from your own family and husband, even your own kids. Then you go to sleep in the bathroom, with bad smells still wafting in the air. Then your boss wakes you up at 3am and tells you to stand outside while he uses the toilet.

These hard-working helpers are "live-in" workers; it means they are part of our families in some ways, even if some of us refuse to admit it.

Some Hong Kong children spend more time with their helpers than their parents. Yet often they're not treated to privacy or decent working conditions.

The court's ruling burdens them with more racial discrimination, and drives them further away from job equality.

The right of abode may be too much to ask, but legislation to give them greater protection certainly is not.

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