Among the professionals who went to work this Sunday were counsellors, chiropractors, Taekwondo instructors, and a dentist. But they did not go to their offices. Instead they set up shop beneath tents on Chater Road, offering their services for free to domestic workers enjoying their day off
They were there as part of “Give Care to Caregivers Day,” organised by the Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) and held three to four times a year. Started in 2011, the event is designed as a way for the people of Hong Kong to show appreciation for domestic workers and the work they perform.
“There has to be outreach to the local people so that they can understand and appreciate the work of migrant workers,” said Cynthia Tellez, general manager of MFMW. “Maybe they just do not know what to do to extend their help, to extend their assistance. So we called on them to realise that they do know this: that six days a week our caregivers take care of the household, ‘Can’t we give them just this one day?’ ”
Hong Kong’s 330,000 domestic workers are a pillar of the local workforce, enabling the careers of many women who would not otherwise be able to leave their children at home during the workday. According to an estimate by HK Helpers Campaign, domestic workers in Hong Kong contribute as much as HK$13.3 billion to the local economy. Yet public recognition of their work is scant, and workers continue to be the victims of discriminatory policies that have been repeatedly blasted by rights groups and the UN; widespread and sometimes extreme abuse; and false beliefs are pedalled by employment agencies.
It may be one reason why the wellness services at Sunday’s event – including blood pressure checks, a massage, and counselling – proved so popular. Around noon, more than a dozen women waited in line outside a tent where two Chinese chiropractors, contorting themselves, applied various pressures to the backs and joints of women lying face-down in face cradles. One domestic worker, Annabelle, who had just had her blood pressure checked in a nearby tent (110/90), laughed and said she was going to get in line there next. “Because I’m so tired, work all day, so hot, all week working,” she said.
Tellez said that the wellness services were important as well as popular. Workers know that if they tell their employers about an illness or physical difficulty they might lose their jobs.
“They’re worried, but as much as possible, if they can still bear it, they keep quiet. So we encourage them. For example, a dentist would say, ‘OK, this is how to approach your employer…You can tell them that you saw me here in this free consultation and I think these are your problems.’ ”
A worker named Weena, a volunteer leader for the Radiant Organisation of Amiable Drivers, also sought to empower workers. “We are trying to inspire and encourage our fellow domestic helpers to learn driving because, as we know, just being helpers is not our career,” she said. “It’s [about] improving or discovering our potential so we become better persons.” Workers can apply to take on household driving duties if they possess a Hong Kong driver’s license.
At another tent, a young Chinese woman from the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals CEASE Crisis Centre in Sheung Wan said she was there to encourage domestic workers to “be brave and seek help” when confronted with domestic and sexual violence. “We are happy to do this, because we know that many of them may have had such experiences, but they do not know what service they can take.”
Though billed as an event where Hong Kong residents would be the ones providing services, the tents were staffed overwhelmingly by Filipina volunteers. That may have been because not all the professionals had yet arrived. A dentist would arrive later in the afternoon.
It may also have been because there is no shortage of professionals within the Filipina domestic worker community in Hong Kong. More than half possess college degrees, and many had upper-level careers before going into domestic work.
A third source of services came from a handful of employers, who, on hearing their helpers’ Sunday plans, asked whether they could offer their own services.
Nearby, at the other end of the short Chater Road stretch, United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL) was celebrating its 30th anniversary. A march preceded a service led by Father Dwight of St. John’s Cathedral, and a variety show was scheduled for the afternoon.