Tuesday, March 19, 2024

3 Ways the Strict HK Social Distancing Laws Impact Domestic Workers

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Social distancing during days off

On August 2, 2020, Sunday, Filipino domestic workers typically take their days off. On a fine day, they gather at their designated areas in parks, streets, and even pedestrian bridges. A stricter rule imposed on social distancing was imposed: a maximum of two people can stay close together in public. That day, however, domestic workers found themselves huddled close to each other not to flout the law, but to patronize every square inch of available shade from the downpour.

Domestic workers gather in Hong Kong during their day off. Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP

As of press time, Hong Kong continues to record a triple-digit rise in COVID-19 cases, and foul weather days can only aggravate the situation with social distancing law set aside to shelter everyone from the rain.

No days off means addressing employer demands 7 days a week

The stricter social distancing law also meant a ban on dine-in for restaurants after 6 pm. This sometimes translates to helpers being told to do the cooking chores. Sometimes employers invite extended family members for dinner, causing a longer time not only in food preparation but also concluding late night to restore the kitchen once the visitors have left the premises.

Some helpers are no longer allowed to take their days off, with employers using the spread of the virus as a convenient excuse.

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Inviting other people over for social gatherings in the house also helps spread the virus, which adds risk to the members of the domestic family but also to their helpers. No wonder many domestic workers choose to go out even if offered extra compensation to work during their days off, even if they run into the risk of a HK$2,000 fine for violating social distancing rules.

Work from home employers may disrupt daily tasks

The new law encourages companies to allow their employees to work at home. Such a change also impacts the daily routine of domestic workers. Employers staying at home meant potential disruptions on routine tasks such as cleaning, grocery, and cooking. Children staying at home also meant extra work is required to look after them.

When employers report to the office, domestic workers have a clear understanding of what to accomplish for the day, by the hour. They can go for groceries right after sending the children to school, cook meals while the laundry is on, and so on. With employers at home, this routine may be altered. Also, the limited space at home makes it less efficient for domestic workers to perform their tasks as helpers are also mindful not to disturb their bosses at work — such as minimizing the use of vacuum cleaners or any device that causes noise and disturbance.

Such a situation only adds to the list of concerns and risks Hong Kong domestic workers in the state of their physical and mental health. This is despite the claims that the territory remains the best place to work as a domestic helper.

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Got more concerns that the COVID-19 social distancing laws impact domestic workers? Please write them down in the comments section below.

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