No pay rise for domestic workers this year, Hong Kong government says

Domestic workers gather on their rest day at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. Photo via the Hong Kong government’s Information Services Department
Domestic workers gather on their rest day at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. Photo via the Hong Kong government’s Information Services Department

Migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong will not receive a salary bump this year, the government said Tuesday.

The city’s 390,000 domestic workers will continue to earn a minimum monthly wage of HK$4,630 (US$590), unchanged since authorities announced a salary raise of 2.4% last September.

In the press release, a spokesperson said: “In accordance with the established practice, we have carefully considered Hong Kong’s general economic and labour market conditions over the past year, as well as Hong Kong’s near-term economic outlook, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

(The statement is almost identical to last year’s, and the year before that, and the year before before that.)

“Taking into account the above, the affordability of employers and the livelihood of FDHs (foreign domestic helpers), the Government has decided that… should remain unchanged,” the statement continued.

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

The monthly food allowance of HK$1,121 (US$145), which workers can opt for instead of being provided food by their employers, will also stay the same.

The government reviews the minimum salary of domestic workers annually, and usually announces subsequent—though usually minuscule—increases. The last time authorities froze salaries was in 2010.

Domestic workers in Hong Kong, who play a key role in increasing the city’s female work force participation by relieving women of daytime childcare responsibilities, have long been considered underpaid.

Last year, rights group Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) said that based on the “definition, studies and standards of living wage, the minimum wage of migrant domestic workers should be HK$5,894 per month.”

Coconuts Hong Kong has reached out to AMCB for comment regarding today’s news.

Read more: Court rules against Hong Kong domestic worker seeking change to ‘live-in’ rule

The pay freeze runs counter to the fact that domestic workers, much of  Hong Kong would agree, have been heroes of sorts during the COVID-19 epidemic. Since the city recorded its first cases of the virus, domestic workers have  taken on additional cleaning duties and spent more time taking care of homebound children, all under the watchful eye of their out-of-office employers.

Some have even had their rest days taken away from them by employers who demanded they stay home, concerned they could catch the virus outside.

It’s a continuing pattern of the government denying the city’s most marginalized groups a living wage. Last week, authorities announced there would be no increase to the city’s already pitifully low minimum wage of HK$37.50 (US$4.80).

The news angered concern groups, who argued that it is this very community earning the lowest of salaries—cleaners and refuse collectors—whose contributions have been indispensable to Hong Kong’s fight against COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam pat herself on the back for taking a 10% pay cut in April. The cut will be effective for a full year, putting her monthly salary at a still-sizable HK$390,000 (US$50,320).

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