Around 50 protesters from the Liberal Party and domestic helper employer groups gathered at government headquarters today demanding the government allow them to sack their helpers without notice.
Last month, at a government hearing, Liberal Party member Harris Yeung warned that “there will be more pregnancies” if helpers are given the option to live away from their employers (video). Protest leader and councillor Michael Lee stood by his party’s assertion today, adding that allowing workers to ‘live-out’ would create social issues, “…such as the housing problem, such as the traffic problem. We cannot control what they are doing at night… They will do some part-time jobs, or they may even go drinking or go partying. Then they will have no energy to work for us.”
The employers claimed their needs were being neglected, chanting “we demand the government give us automatic firing rights!” and “helpers borrow money and run off!“.
Lee held up a comic featuring a racial caricature of a domestic helper refusing to work despite pleas from an exasperated employer.
Joan Tsui of the ‘Support Group for HK Employers With Foreign Domestic Workers’ said that “employers should have the right to immediately fire helpers without any notice or having to pay any compensation. We pay a lot of agency fees and some helpers don’t have to pay anything, like Filipino ones. So they endlessly job-hop and pick and choose their employers. And they’re always borrowing so much money and get in so much debt. The government should not allow them to take out loans.”
Whilst it is true that many domestic helpers are held in debt bondage by their agents, the unproven notion of ‘job-hopping’ was debunked in a 2006 HKU study (pg.24) which found that the current rules, in fact, “encouraged employers to violate the standard form contract and to ‘maid hop’… putting a ‘menace of penalty’ in the hands of every employment agent and employer“. The myth of ‘job-hopping’ was also discredited in an SCMP Op-ed by HK Helpers Campaign legal advisor Rob Connelly.
Debate is currently raging in the city after a spate of torture and abuse cases made international headlines. Late last month, a woman was arrested after allegedly cutting off her helper’s finger with a knife. A 2012 Mission for Migrant Workers survey found that 58% of workers had faced verbal abuse, 18% had suffered physical abuse and 6% had been sexually abused.
Addressing the crowd, Michael Lee said, “The recent Indonesian helper abuse case was very unfortunate and we feel very sympathetic. But it is a small case and it is more common for helpers to exploit their employers. They are always on their mobile phones, going on YouTube all the time. They neglect the elderly people in their care, damage the furniture, steal from employers. There was recently a case of a helper who gave birth and left her baby in the toilet. That shows what some of them are like.”
Lee also claimed the ‘two-week’ rule, obliging helpers to quickly leave the territory at the end of contracts, was too long. Helper NGOs, meanwhile, argue that the period is too short and encourages workers to remain in abusive situations.
It is difficult for helpers to find new employment in such a short period and even the Immigration Department admits that new visas take longer than a fortnight to process.
After Lee’s speech, the demonstrators cheered as he ripped up a mock plane ticket. Employers objected to a contractual obligation to cover helper’s air travel, as they claim many simply go to Macau and pocket the money.
For decades, lobbying groups such as Joseph Law’s ‘Employer Association’ and helper agencies have been lobbying the Hong Kong government to scrap reforms for domestic workers. Their demands to suppress wages are often met by the government, causing pay and conditions to actually worsen for the local helper community. During hearings at government headquarters, these opaque and unaccountable groups offer anecdotal evidence to back up their claims in contrast to the hard statistics cited by helper NGOs and numerous international bodies…
Last week, TVB broadcasted a comprehensive Pearl Report documentary examining the scourge of abuse cases in the city and how/why they occur…
If you wish to help enact positive change for HK’s helper community, visit the Action Centre. We are currently seeking volunteers willing to act in a video production and translators who can speak Chinese or Nepali. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter.