Yesterday, hundreds of domestic helpers in Hong Kong marched to call for better working conditions after maids fell to their death from tower block windows as they tried to clean them.
The protesters demanded an increase in the minimum wage for foreign domestic workers to be increased to HKD5,000, regulated working hours, and better protection for helpers.
Photo: Loryjean Yungco
They shouted, “We are workers, not slaves!”
In a press release, organisers from the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) said a wage increase for foreign domestic workers was “justified and long deserved”, as they are “not spared” from inflation.
“The [Hong Kong] government should recognise too that the more than 300,000 [foreign domestic workers] living and working here deserve to live decently like everyone else,” it said.
In addition, the AMCB called for better working conditions by regulating working hours of domestic helpers and “ensuring protection” for them by excluding the cleaning of exterior of their employers’ windows.
The organisation said they believed at least three maids had died falling from windows this year.
A representative from the Labour Department receiving the demands outlined by protesters. Photo: Loryjean Yungco
Among the fatalities last month was a 35-year-old Filipina domestic helper who was reportedly cleaning the outside of the windows of her employer’s flat.
They are calling on the government to ban employers from asking maids to clean the outside of windows in this city of skyscrapers.
“For us it’s hard to say no when employers ask us to clean windows, but it’s scary,” said Dolores Balladares, a spokeswoman for the AMCB.
She added, “It’s about time for the government to protect the workers.”
Protesters gathered in Central to demand better working conditions. Photo: Loryjean Yungco
For her part, Thai domestic worker Waen Takruerat, 42, said the majority of maids were expected to clean windows inside and out.
“It’s scary and dangerous so I told my boss I can’t do it,” she told AFP.
There are 300,000 maids in Hong Kong, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, with concern growing among rights groups over their welfare following several abuse cases.
The plight of maids in Hong Kong was thrown into the spotlight by the case of Indonesian helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, who was beaten and starved by her employer Law Wan-tung in a case that made world headlines.
Law was jailed in February 2015 for six years.
Photo: Loryjean Yungco
Campaigners have long sought reforms, including ending the requirement for maids to live with their employers. They say this makes it difficult for them to escape abuse.
They also want the government to abolish the “two-week rule” under which domestic workers must leave Hong Kong 14 days after they quit a job, unless they can find other employment within that time.
So far the government has shown no indication it will relax either rule.
Photos: Loryjean Yungco.
Words: AFP, with additional reporting from Coconuts Hong Kong.
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