14 Hong Kong domestic workers fined HK$2,000 for violating social distancing laws

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) authorities patrol gatherings of domestic workers in Tamar Park, Admiralty, on Aug. 9, 2020.
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) authorities patrol gatherings of domestic workers in Tamar Park, Admiralty, on Aug. 9, 2020.

Hong Kong police handed out over a dozen fines of HK$2,000 (US$258) to domestic workers while enforcing social distancing laws Sunday.

According to a Hong Kong police statement, 14 non-locals were dished penalty tickets for gathering in groups larger than two people in Central and Tseung Kwan O. Three others were fined for not wearing a mask, an offence that also carries a fixed fine of HK$2,000.

Authorities have been stepping up regular patrols at spots where domestic workers commonly gather on their days off since public health restrictions were tightened, holding up banners 1.5 meters in length and distributing leaflets to remind them to abide by regulations.

A HK$2,000 fine is a considerable cut of the minimum monthly salary earned by domestic workers in the city, which currently stands at HK$4,630 (US$597).

Domestic workers slapped with fines told HK01 that they felt the police’s actions was unfair, pointing out that other people were also gathered in large groups yet not penalized. Some said they would have to borrow money from friends, ask employers to deduct their salary or work extra hours to pay off the fees.

Hong Kong police have been criticized for seeming to target domestic workers on their days off, while appearing to turn a blind eye to expats gathering at beaches, country parks and ferry piers.

Domestic workers in Hong Kong are entitled to just one day off a week. Since the outbreak began in January, there have been reports of employers forcing their workers to stay home for fear that they could catch the virus outside.

The Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU) said in June that domestic workers are facing increased discrimination, both from their employers and in public, during the epidemic.

There have been around 60 cases of domestic workers infected with COVID-19, a vast majority contracting the disease from their employers. None have been linked to gatherings. News that an Indonesian domestic worker who stayed at boarding houses tested positive for the virus last week triggered fears that the disease could be spreading in the crowded facilities that workers live in while in between employers.

Widespread testing at boarding houses has so far found two more infected workers.

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