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Hong Kong: Foreign Domestic Workers Protest Mandatory Live-in Policy

A number of migrants rights organization protested outside the Hong Kong immigration office on July 11, 2012 against the mandatory live-in policy which puts foreign maids in a vulnerable condition and deprives them of minimum wage protection and rights of abode in Hong Kong.

The protest is in reaction to a scandal exposed by local media regarding Purple Lee, a singer dubbed the “diva of Cantonese songs for Children,” and her outrageous treatment of  her maid, who is made to sleep in a customized bed on top of a toilet bowl, in a bathroom. While a reporter visited her home for an interview, she proudly introduced her ingenious design.

Purple Lee's customized bed in bathroom. Photo from Facebook Campaign Page.

The incident has generated a lot of concern about the living condition of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Hong Kong. A campaign page, “Toilet is not a place to sleep“, was quickly set up on Facebook, exposing similar cases.

The Asian Migrants Coordination Body, a regional Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)  on migrants’ rights based in Hong Kong, pointed out during the protest that Purple Lee's case only reflects the tip of iceberg. Its statement explains FDWs’ vulnerable condition in Hong Kong:

Because of the mandatory live-in employment arrangement, FDWs are forced to accept whatever the employer provides them, could it be on the toilet, on top of the washing machine, in the cupboard and many others.

Mandatory live in arrangement is just one form of social exclusion against FDWs. We also have the Two Week Rule, ban on driving duties, ban on Nepali workers to go back to HK and work, the exclusion on the Statutory Minimum Wage and the imposition of Minimum Allowable Wage for foreign domestic wages.

These situations are against the International Convention on Decent Work or the C189. The very essence of the convention is to protect every workers right against any abuse and exploitation.

A number of migrants’ right organizations protested outside the Hong Kong Immigration Office on July 11, 2012. Photo from inmediahk.net. Permission to Use.

FDWs could live in their own apartment with employer consent before the mandatory live-in arrangement was enforced by the immigration department in 2004. Asosiasi Tenaga Kerja Indonesia di Hong Kong (Hong Kong Indonesia Domestic Worker Association) explains in their protest album in Facebook:

Many FDWs are forced to sleep under the table, with wards who are already young adults, in the laundry room or the kitchen. The right to privacy of FDWs is violated every day and the uncomfortable living arrangement adds more to the physical and mental pressures experienced by FDWs…

The mandatory live-in arrangement is one of the issues that show how FDWs are treated differently from other workers – foreign or migrants – in Hong Kong. Not only are FDWs excluded from policies that can be potentially beneficial but even worse, FDWs are subjected to policies that make true the brand for FDWs as modern-day slaves. The New Conditions of Stay, exclusion from the Statutory Minimum Wage, the arbitrary and unjust Minimum Allowable Wage, prohibition from applying for the Right of Abode and the mandatory live-in employment arrangement – truly, the policies that exclude and discriminate FDWs abound in Hong Kong.

A foreign domestic maid telling her story in the protest. Photo from Asosiasi Tenaga Kerja Indonesia di Hong Kong's Protest Album in Facebook

Inmediahk.net, a citizen media website, reports from the protest scene [zh] the desperate stories told by FDWs :

「我沒有自己的私人房間,睡床只在垃圾桶旁邊。」一名印傭持咪申訴。另有一名外傭接著說:「太太(僱主)沒有為我提供早餐及午餐,所以我每天只進晚餐。平日飲用的水來自水喉水,未經煮沸。」更有外傭表示曾遭僱主虐打,當眾展示身上的傷勢。

“I don't have my own room and my bed is besides the trash can,” an Indonesian FDW said. Another FDW followed: “Madam (the employer) does not provide any breakfast and lunch and I only eat one proper meal (dinner) a day.” A FDW said that she had been beaten by her employer and showed her wound on the scene.

積極參與請願行動的外傭僱主Doris Lee小姐認為,僱主不應只重視自己權益,也要顧及外傭的人權和權益。「每個人都可享有人權,不能因為外傭非香港人,到本港工作就可隨便剝削她們的人權。外傭遭僱主剝削已經不是新鮮事,她們不懂中文,如果我們僱主埋沒良心不作聲,我們便是無良的一群。」她認為部份僱主家庭因收入不高、家中地方不足而無法為外傭私人房間甚至自己的睡床,已成為一種部份香港人接受的文化,並被視為正常。她認為這部份人的邏輯思考中,「外傭只是他們的工人,所以遭遇到不好的對待也正常不過」,而此舉嚴重剝削外傭人權。

Doris Lee, a FDW employer who has been very supportive of  FDW rights believes that the employers should not be so selfish: “Everyone should enjoy human rights, we should not exploit their rights because they are not from Hong Kong. The exploitation of FDWs is not a new phenomenon, we have to speak up for our conscience rather than keeping silence.” She pointed out that as some employers do not have a high income and live in a small apartment, they tend to think it is OK that the FDWs do not have their own room or even a bed. “FDWs are their workers and it is normal to be mean to them, however, this is against FDWs’ rights,” Doris Lee criticized the employers’ way of thinking.

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