Foreign Domestic Workers Excluded From Proposed Standard Working Hours in HK

Domestic labor advocates slammed a proposal by Hong Kong’s Labour Department that excluded foreign domestic workers from “contract” working hours, accusing the latter with “total disregard” of their current labor conditions.

In a report by Hong Kong News, representatives from Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body and the Progressive Labor Union of Domestic Workers in Hong Kong expressed their disappointment and anger over the proposal.

“The [standard] working hours could have been significant advancement to address modern-day slavery of migrant domestic workers. But it seems the Hong Kong government is promoting slavery and slave-like treatment of MDWs instead of resolving it,” said AMCB spokesman Eman Villanueva. PLUDW-HK chairperson Shiella Grace Estrada likewise said they were disappointed of the exclusion despite consulting domestic workers about standardizing working hours.

“Sa consultation na ginawa nila sa Hong Kong, lahat halos (ng labor unions) may representatives and they even accepted our statement about the need of MDWs to have standard working hours.

“Then if they already had in mind to exclude us, why did they include us in the consultation? That consultation was not real then because they know that domestic workers suffer the most because of long working hours,” Estrada said, adding that if domestic workers continue to spend long working hours, lack of rest makes them vulnerable to illness.

“Many employers do not allow their domestic workers to take a sick leave unless the (illness) is serious. Some employers, walang binibiling medical insurance…It’s a shame as Hong Kong government keeps claiming that Hong Kong is the best place for domestic workers, but why is there exclusion from labor protection?” Estrada said.

The Labour Department, however, cited domestic workers’ job nature and “socio-economic ramifications” as grounds for exclusion. Addressing the issue on long working hours in Hong Kong, the Labour Department proposed that employers include working hours within an employment contract of low-income workers or those monthly wage is HK$11,000 or less.

A study by UBS, “Prices and Earnings” revealed that Hong Kong workers average about 50.11 hours a week at the workplace, the longest among 71 cities included in the study.

Villanueva observed that foreign domestic workers have suffered exclusion on multiple ocassions.

“Noon sa minimum wage, excluded ang live-in [workers]. Around 98 percent or more of live-in domestic workers are migrants. After na-exclude kami sa Mimnimum Wage Ordinance, ngayon naman ay excluded ulit kami sa working hours regulation dahil excluded kami sa Minimum Wage Ordinance.

“The discrimination, exclusion, and slavery of MDWs have been made systematic and institutionalized here in Hong Kong,” he said, citing that the latest proposal from the Labour Department showed “blatant discrimination” and “unfair treatment” towards migrant domestic workers.