Hong Kong police are targeting domestic workers when enforcing social distancing laws: Rights group

Police patrol gatherings of domestic workers in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.
Police patrol gatherings of domestic workers in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.

A Hong Kong-based rights group is calling on police to enforce social distancing laws fairly after some domestic workers say they feel they have been discriminated against.

A spokesperson for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) said in a press conference Friday that domestic workers generally follow public health restrictions, including wearing a mask and not gathering in groups larger than two.

Yet, she said, police have been “singling out” the domestic workers and asking them to go home early, not considering that they are entitled to one 24-hour rest day a week and would be obligated to work if they go home.

Last weekend, 14 domestic workers were fined for breaching social distancing regulations in Central and Tseung Kwan O, drawing criticism that police are enforcing laws with double standards. Groups gathered at beaches and ferry piers, some say, seem to be given a pass while authorities have stepped up patrols at spots where domestic workers often meet on weekends.

The HK$2,000 penalty (US$258) is a significant cut of their salaries—a domestic worker in Hong Kong earns a minimum of HK$4,630 (US$597) a month. During the pandemic, domestic workers are also under increased financial pressure as they deal with visa extension fees, rising debt levels and higher remittances to send home.

One Indonesian worker said in a video played in the press conference that many want to spend their Sundays outside because they work long, stressful hours and do not have a room or a proper place to rest in if they were to stay at their employer’s home.

She said that when she was at Victoria Park at around 7pm last weekend, police officers shined a torch at her and her fellow domestic workers to “check if [they] have social distancing.”

“It’s very strange. If the[y] are Hong Kong people, why won’t they do the same? But they will to us foreign workers,” she said.

Alma, a Filipino domestic worker, also said she felt that police’s enforcement was discriminatory. “I hope and appeal to the government of Hong Kong, please don’t single out or put the blame on us, that once we are taking our day off, we [become] carrier of [the] virus,” she added.

Around 70 domestic workers in Hong Kong have tested positive for COVID-19, including a number over the last week who were found to have stayed at boarding houses for workers in between employment.

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