|Nanny-day: Foreign domestic helpers having a day off in Central.|
Joan Tsui, is the convener of the Support Group for Hong Kong Employers with Foreign Domestic Helpers, representing over 10,000 employers. She said that the main reason for hiring helpers is to allow Hong Kong women a career. Employers spend a monthly total of HK$9,000 on a helper with a 2-year contract, adding in other benefits such as food and insurance, she added. An ordinary working-woman in Hong Kong earns HK$15,000 to HK$20,000 a month. “If the helper’s salary rises to HK$4,500, we trust most women will reject to hire the helper and return to their homes as the housewives,” Tsui says, noting that, “we do pay more to hire a good helper. I will pay a bonus to my helper after good fulfillment of a 2-year contract.”
Filipino domestic helper Arline T. Bathara has been working for a local family for over two years, earning minimum wage. Every month she sends HK$2,000 home. For the first three months, she was also still paying down the HK$20,000 she owed her work recruitment agency in the Philippines. “It’s almost funny, I was actually in Hong Kong, borrowing money from the Philippines to afford working here,” Bathara said. Although she feels that economy is tight and that it would not be possible for her to ask for a raise, she still wants to stay because she earns the double of what she did back home.
For Hannah Mae Duldulao, also a Filipino helper, a normal workday starts at 6.30 a.m. and lasts until 10.30 p.m. In accordance with Hong Kong immigration law, she has one resting-day per week. She says the biggest problem for many is that despite the government requiring employers to provide food or pay a food allowance of no less than HK$964 per month, many are not given enough food, and end up spending their salaries on buying their own. “It’s still not good to complain. You better do your work and keep quiet, so you can keep your job,” she said.
Silvia Bonvini, a representative of the Hong Kong helpers campaign, confirms Bathara and Duldulao’s stories are not unusual. “The high weekly working hours are a direct result of live-in rules,” Bonvini said, but adds that the live-in rule is also the key reason why the helpers are here. Another reason for the live-in rule is for employers to ensure that the helper is not pursuing additional work. “These are the reasons why the government are reluctant to change the laws,” she explained.
The Hong Kong helpers campaign’s main focus is to change how the foreign helpers are viewed and valued by the local community and to promote the work of non-governmental organizations supporting the helpers. “The helpers are not slaves working to please the Hong Kong people, they are a working force that needs to be put equal to other foreign workers in town. They should have the same benefits,” Bonvini said.
Earlier this year, Myanmar temporarily stopped sending helpers to Hong Kong only months after the first batch of domestic workers had arrived. The ban was imposed following a high-profile case of an Indonesian helper having been abused by her employer for months.