Domestic workers demand minimum wage, food allowance increases

Domestic workers protest for a higher minimum wage yesterday outside the Labour Department. Picture via Facebook (香港亞洲家務工工會聯會 Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions FADWU)

Hong Kong’s 354,000 domestic workers are demanding the government increase their minimum wage by 25 percent, or HK$1,090 (US$138) to HK$5,500 (US$700) per month.

Representatives of foreign domestic worker groups yesterday met with officials from the Labour Department as part of the annual consultation for wage adjustments in the sector.

As well as seeking a 25 percent rise, the organizations’ also want helpers’ food allowance raised from HK$1,053 (US$134) to HK$2,500 (US$318).

In a statement online, a coalition of groups called previous raises “inadequate” and demanded the government stop treating them as “second-class workers” by providing a salary that actually reflected workers’ needs.

Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body, told Coconuts HK that the figure of HK$5,500 was based on an Oxfam Hong Kong study calculating the living wage with adjustments made for domestic workers’ average hours and deductions made for expenses covered by employers such as rent and utilities.

“Anything below $5,500 means a worker is being paid less than the living wage, so it is a slave wage,” Villanueva said.

“The government and some employers groups are saying that 25 percent is too much, but what we’re saying is the reason why it’s 25 percent is because for so many years the wage is lagging behind.”

The community leader also pointed to recent research by the Mission for Migrant Workers (MFWM) showing nearly 60 percent of domestic workers’ wages were spent in Hong Kong, including a large chunk on agency fees and loans.

As most work to support families back in their home countries, this showed less and less was available for remittances.

Currently, domestic helpers get a minimum allowable wage of HK$4,410 (US$561) if their contracts were signed after Sept. 30 last year.

They are also legally entitled one rest day per week, paid sick leave, 12 statutory holidays annually and at least seven days paid annual leave a year.

Their wages, however, are not covered by the Minimum Wage Ordinance — which covers adjustments for other grassroots workers, who are entitled to the current statutory minimum of HK$34.5 per hour (US$4.4).

Domestic workers’ minimum salary — known as the “Minimum Allowable Wage” — is adjusted separately, in a process the coalition slammed as being less transparent and lacking objective guidelines.

Rodelia Villar, who administers the Domestic Workers Corner, a Facebook group that provides budget recipes and cooking tips, said 85 percent of members had difficulty with eating well and getting enough sleep.

She said most bought their own food, as it was common for employers to provide only instant noodles.

“How can they survive after 16 to 18 hours of non-stop work with one piece of bread for breakfast, noodles for lunch and leftover food for dinner,” she said.

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