Helpers for Domestic Helpers has been assisting and empowering members of the domestic worker community since 1989.
There are over 320,000 foreign domestic workers (FDHs) in Hong Kong. The vast majority are women from the Philippines and Indonesia, with a small percentage also coming from Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Most places these workers originate from have limited job opportunities. This forces them to leave their families behind in order to earn a living abroad and support their dependents at home.
In Hong Kong, the presence of FDHs helps compensate for a shortage of formal child care and elderly care facilities. Families depend on FDHs to look after their children and elderly as well as manage their household enabling more people in Hong Kong to engage in income generating activities and have better quality of life.
Economic research indicates the contribution of FDW to Hong Kong’s economy in 2012 was 6.6% of Hong Kong’s GDP, or approximately HK$134billion. This is double the contribution of the construction sector, and around the same as the accommodation and food sectors.
The Challenges for Hong Kong’s Domestic Workers
Domestic workers here face both circumstances and restrictive laws that make living and in accordance with international human rights standards challenging.
It is very common for FDHs to be charged extortionate and illegal placement fees by employment agencies in order to obtain a job in Hong Kong. Under Hong Kong laws it is illegal for agencies to charge an amount of commission exceeding a job applicant’s first month’s wages. However the law is easily circumvented by agencies which often collude with lending companies to facilitate the collection of excessive recruitment fees. Many FDHs who are desperate for jobs are subjected to debt bondage situation with their travel documents being confiscated and a significant portion of their monthly wages retained by the agencies.
Cases of abuse are relatively common among FDHs. It is not uncommon for a domestic worker to seek assistance at HDH for issues regarding verbal, physical or sometimes even sexual abuse. Many foreign domestic workers do not speak out against abuse because of the discriminatory law in Hong Kong, which only gives them two weeks to secure employment once they leave a position. After that time period they must leave the country and return on another visa, which many cannot afford.
Lack of Adequate Rest
Many FDHs work excessive hours with little opportunity for rest. Hong Kong has no upper limit on the number of hours a FDH can be required to
work, with the exception of one contractual rest day each week. According to a 2013 report by Amnesty International, the Indonesian FDHs interviewed worked an average of 17 hours per day. Further, many of these FDHs reported being “on-call” 24 hours per day, sometimes being roused from their sleep to perform tasks for their employers. – Amnesty International
To learn more about the legal issues that affect domestic workers, including the human rights that are relevant to their field, please visit our HDH and Human Rights page.
Over the past past 25 years, HDH has helped over 25,000 foreign domestic workers seek justice and safety due to the working environments. We could not have achieved such success without the volunteers who are so deeply committed to our cause. To learn more about getting involved with HDH, click here.