Those of us who have in first hand knowledge of the way foreign domestic helpers are treated in Hong Kong will be amused at the latest effort to paper over the cracks by the labour department. Never mind the abuse of these poor girls by having to live in with their employers, the unfairness of having to leave the SAR within 14 days of leaving their jobs, giving them no chance to find another job, and NEVER being allowed to become a Permanent Resident in the city.
Oh no, what these girls need is a 24 hour hotline providing support services. It is open every day, except public holidays (When girls are not working and would have time to contact them) 24 hours a day. From 8 am to 10 pm. A translations service is available in most Asian languages (when girls are working, and many girls are not allowed to use their phones.)
The helpline will give advice (in several languages) on their employment rights, and how to deal with exploitation and physical abuse.
Labour departments generally have been unhelpful to domestic helpers – they are not even open on a Sunday when 90% of helpers have their only day off, so I suppose this helpline is a step in the right direction.
Most of the assistance provided to the helpers is given by non-government organisations – churches and charities. This is a sad indictment on the way this supposed modern city treats guest workers.
To his credit, Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung has said that although this is a step in the right direction it would just provide information and do nothing to actually assist those with problems. Cheung urged the government to provide more and better services, such as emergency shelters for those suffering abuse.
“We cannot treat them as tools, they are humans,” Cheung said.
A shelter may help workers who have their contracts terminated and are tied in legal disputes with employers. The system is against them – if they manage to stay here to fight their case, they are not allowed to work so many of them cannot afford to stay, attend court etc.
Despite the occasionally highlighted serious abuses, hundreds of girls are abused every day, their employment rights are denied (they are made to sleep on floors, their passports are taken away from them).
These girls cannot complain because it is so easy for the employer to sack them, they know the Government will not let them stay to find another job – and their families at home are depending on the income they send home. HK Government should be ashamed of itself – instead of starting hotlines or lobbying for shelter the lawmakers should be made to tackle the abuses which are enshrined in law.
Meet the author
Arthur Crandon is a lawyer, the boring office kind, not the exciting (and much better paid) courtroom type. He worked as a solicitor for a while before embarking on an interesting life overseas. He has spent most of his time in recent years in South East Asia, more recently in Hong Kong. Before that, Arthur lived and worked in the Philippine Islands.
He loves to fish, and play the piano – but spends most of his time writing, eating, drinking and sleeping
– usually, but not always, in that order.
His first book, Deadly Election, draws on his strange imagination and his
experiences, together with those of others, in a land that, beneath a veneer of civilisation, operates like the Wild West and is very
dangerous to innocent and gullible foreigners.
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