Racial discrimination refers to “any differentiation, expulsion, limitation or predilection based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the motive or result of revoking or weakening the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and elementary freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life” (Loper, 2004). Racial discrimination also exists in Hong Kong especially in the employment sector where migrant domestic workers suffers the most. The demand for migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong has been increasing since the past decade due to vast majority of Hong Kong females joining the work force. Accordingly, migrant domestic workers are exposed to different types of abuse and racial discrimination due to live-in requirement, and 2- week rules set by the Hong Kong SAR government. In addition, there are some other issues faced by migrant domestic workers while working in Hong Kong. Such as, underpayment, exceptionally high recruitment fees, lack of privacy and proper accommodation, termination, long working hours and no rest days. Therefore, the purpose of this research is to compare the working experience of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong in the past and the present, and to know whether they are still discriminated and abused by their employers. This research will also focus on some laws and legislations in Hong Kong. Thus, Interviews were conducted with migrant domestic workers from Indonesian and Philippines to collect data.
Author: Suman Bibi
BA (Hons) Criminology with Psychology, Summer 2020
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: Introduction
- Chapter 2: Literature review
- 2.1: Migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong
- 2.2: Racial Discrimination Ordinance and other ragulations in Hong Kong
- Chapter 3: Methodology
- 3.1: Data Analysis
- 3.2: Limitations and Ethics
- Chapter 4: Research results
- Theme 1: Recruitment agency fee
- Theme 2: Monthly income and where does it go
- Theme 3: Necessities and privacy
- Theme 4: Work routine and holidays
- Theme 5: Racial discrimination and protection of rights
- Theme 6: Ill-treatment and termination
- Chapter 5: Discussion
- 5.1: Recruitment fees and Monthly Income
- 5.2 Necessities and privacy
- 5.3: Working Hours and rest days
- 5.4 Bad working experience and termination
- 5.5 Racial discrimination and HKSAR regulations
- Chapter 6: Conclusion and recommendations
I would like to thank all my participants for agreeing to be interviewed and to share their working experience with me to help with my data collection.
Special thanks to the Chairwomen of Mission For Migrant Workers (MFMW) for her help with my interviews. I would also like to specially thank Dr. Alexander for his supervision and guidance throughout my research, and to Dr. Kwan for his support.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Hong Kong is known as one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. However, it does not certainly indicate that Hong Kong is a multinational City. As the majority of the population consists of Chinese people which comprises 95% of the overall population. The remaining 5% consists of ethnic minorities from Asia, south-east Asia, Europe and other places around the world. Among these, most of them are from the Philippines, followed by Indonesians, Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese, Bangladeshis, Europeans and others (Hue and Kennedy, 2014, p.118). Thus, it indicates that a vast number of ethnic minorities are from Asian or south-east Asian countries. Although Hong Kong is a city that except different cultures, yet many ethnic minorities encounter racial discrimination in different sectors, such as social services, employment, accommodation, health services, education, and other services. Racial discrimination refers to “any differentiation, expulsion, limitation or predilection based on race, coluor, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the motive or result of revoking or weakening the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and elementary freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life” (Loper, 2004). However, the more prominent sector where ethnic minorities face discrimination in employment. As the demand for migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong is increasing over the years due to the tremendous number of females in Hong Kong entering the workforce. Hence, they heavily rely on migrant domestic workers for doing domestic work or taking care of the dependents. Unfortunately, there are some regulations under HKSAR Government such as a 2-week rule, where migrant domestic workers cannot stay in Hong Kong for more than 2-weeks after their contract has been finished or terminated and live-in obligation where migrant domestic workers have to live with their employers until the termination of their contract. Thus, it exposes them to racial discrimination and abuse. However, racial discrimination is not considered a serious problem in Hong Kong as the Government of Hong Kong SAR declares that racial violence is not as prominent in Hong Kong as it is in the United States or other parts of the world. Also, Racial Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) which was enforced on 10 July 2009 is not so effective when considering the rights of Ethnic minorities, especially the rights of domestic workers in Hong Kong. As, migrant domestic workers are not entitled to a right of abode in Hong Kong even after staying in Hong Kong for over 7 years (Loper, 2001). Thus, the purpose of this research is to compare the working experience of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong in the past and the present and to know whether they are still discriminated against and abused by their employers. Also, to understand why racial discrimination is tolerated by domestic workers and is under-reported in Hong Kong, besides if it is reported what possible actions were taken to overcome it. Accordingly, this research will also focus on legislations in Hong Kong including Racial Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) and to know more about why it is not so effective and why some of the rights do not apply to Domestic workers but are applicable to other residents in Hong Kong. Such as the right of abode. This research will also help spread awareness on how migrant domestic workers’ rights should be seriously considered in Hong Kong and that they should also be treated equally and fairly.
Chapter 2: Literature review
Migrant domestic workers started coming to Hong Kong in the mid-1970s. Since then, the demands for migrant domestic workers have been gradually increasing. As a result, Hong Kong is now a city that hires a vast number of migrant domestic workers in the world. Accordingly, migrant domestic workers contain up to 10% of the overall working population in Hong Kong. Domestic workers who work in Hong Kong are mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia (Ullah, 2015). Since they are mostly preferred by Hong Kong people because helpers from the Philippines have a good command of English and helpers from Indonesia can speak Cantonese, as they are taught by their recruiting agencies (Huang, 2005).
2.1: Migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong
Migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong are predominantly females due to their working nature, because the stereotypical role of a female consists of doing household chores and taking care of the children or the elderly (Ullah, 2010). Migrant domestic workers are also inclined to work in Hong Kong due to an increase in wages, impression of supreme law and order, and the aura of liberty (Wahyudi & Allmark, 2016, p.19). Unfortunately, they get exploited, abused, and discriminated against. Also, there are some major problems faced by migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong including a bad living environment, long working hours, no rest days, underpayment, and different forms of abuse. Such as sexual, verbal and physical abuse (Ningrum, 2011). Besides, some researchers stated that brutal behaviour towards migrant domestic workers is usually caused by their race, class, and status (Abraham, 2000). Also, most migrant domestic workers are not provided with a separate room or enough space to sleep, thus they usually sleep in the washroom, kitchen, or living room (Amnesty International, 2013). In addition, one of the most common problems amongst migrant domestic workers is an underpayment, immoderate agency fee, and long working hours. In 2007, migrant domestic workers were entitled to a minimum wage of HKD3,320 per month. However, most of them were only paid around 2,500 or less per month, and from this income, they had to pay their recruitment fees. According to the Hong Kong SAR regulations, migrant domestic workers have to pay only 10% of their first-month income which at the time was HKD 332 per month. Nevertheless, they were charged more than that and were obliged to settle all the payments within 7 months. Withal, migrant domestic workers are exploited to the point that most of them are forced to work for very long hours without any rest days. However, according to the labour law of Hong Kong, migrant domestic workers are obliged to have a day off in a week (Walsh & Smith, 2008). Yet, due to live-in policy, most migrant domestic workers are not granted a day off as they are on call for 24/7 (Ignacio & Meijia, 2009). Also, Migrant Domestic workers are the only workers in Hong Kong that receive the lowest wage in Hong Kong, and their rights are violated in different ways. Such as, they are not treated equally, they are not given enough privacy, and their right to physical autonomy is also violated. (Wacks, 2000). Sadly, Migrant domestic workers get exploited from the beginning. As the recruitment agencies from the home countries of Migrant Domestic workers work together with the placement agencies in Hong Kong. According to Amnesty International, the agencies use mendacity and compulsion to hire migrant domestic workers and evoke them to do work in conditions that contravene their human and labour rights. Amnesty International also stated that the agencies usually take possession of migrant domestic workers’ identity documents, and constraints their right to movement. Migrant domestic workers are also overcharged with recruitment fees and thus, they are manipulated into paying all the fees. Moreover, they can only get back their confiscated documents after they clear their debts, or once their contract is terminated. Simultaneously, if migrant domestic workers have a change of mind and want to quit the recruitment process, they will be charged with a penalty or will be urged to remunerate the full recruitment fee (Amnesty International, 2013). Even though migrant domestic workers are exploited and discriminated against by their agencies and employers, it does not necessarily mean that migrant domestic workers are not given rights in Hong Kong. There are many benefits granted to migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong which they can enjoy. For instance, in accordance with the Hong Kong SAR Government, migrant domestic workers are given “equal statutory rights and benefits which includes days off, public holidays, maternity protection, free medical treatment, satisfactory habitation, proper privacy, and a “freeway back home” (Amnesty International, 2013). These are the privileges that are not generally provided to local workers. However, there are also some other policies implemented by the Hong Kong SAR Government that aggravate the stay of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, such as the 2-week rule, and live-in requirement. As a result, even if they are granted some benefits, the overall working experience of most of the migrant domestic workers is not pleasant.
2.2: Racial Discrimination Ordinance and other ragulations in Hong Kong
There are some laws and regulations implemented by the Government of Hong Kong SAR which are also applicable to ethnic minorities including migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, such as Racial Discrimination Ordinance (RDO). In addition, Article 25 of Hong Kong Basic Law, as well as Article 22 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, and article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) assured an individual the right of equality in Hong Kong. Besides, Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) clearly stated that “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or another status” (Gittings, 2017). Moreover, Article 6(1)(c) of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Migrant for Employment, (No.97) (1949), which is also applied to Hong Kong asserts that “Each Member for which this Convention is in force undertakes to apply, without discrimination in respect of nationality, race, religion or sex, to immigrants lawfully within its territory, treatment no less favourable than that which it applies to its nationals in respect of the following matters…employment taxes, dues or contributions payable in respect of the person employed” (Chan, 2008). As seen from the mentioned laws and regulations, not just Chinese people but also ethnic minorities have equal rights. dismally, Racial Discrimination Ordinance is incompetent in the sense that when the Racial Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) was proposed to the Legislative council, it’s status was modified by the government without any justification. Hence, Racial Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) is less effective than the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) and the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) (Petersen, 2007). Furthermore, “the exercise of government power, discrimination regarding immigration status, the extent of residence, the status of Hong Kong permanent residence and nationality” are all excluded from the Racial Discrimination Ordinance (RDO) (Crabtree, 2012). Thus, this ordinance is not so beneficial for migrant domestic workers, as mentioned above, they cannot become a permanent residence in Hong Kong even after living and working in Hong Kong for more than 7 years. In 1987, a new policy “New Conditions of Stay” was enforced for migrant domestic workers and under this policy, migrant domestic workers can only stay for 2 years which is the duration of their contract. Likewise, from 1st July 1997, they cannot be regarded as Hong Kong residents once they are hired as domestic helpers (Sautman & Kneehans, 2002). Additionally, migrant domestic workers can only work for a single employer and they are unauthorized to change employers until their contract has been terminated which is for 2-years. Also, once the contract has been terminated, a migrant domestic worker has 14 days to find a new employer and extend their visa otherwise, they must leave Hong Kong (Ozeki, 1997).
Chapter 3: Methodology
This paper will include primary research methods to collect data. As the purpose of this study is to compare the working experience of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong in the past and the present. Therefore, the literature review gave a comprehensiveness of the experience and treatment of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong in the past. However, for the present experience and treatment, it is important to do primary research to obtain more authentic and recent data. Furthermore, a qualitative research approach will be used to analyze the findings. The qualitative research approach will be used because the focus group of this research is migrant domestic workers. Thus, the data will be collected through interviews and not through filling in questionnaires and surveys because there might be uncertainties in collected data. For instance, the surveys or questionnaires might not be fully completed, or the participants might not fill it truthfully. However, for interviews, there will be a one-on-one conversation with the interviewees. As a result, they will be more focused. Besides, I will be able to ask some follow up questions in the interview to collect more information and can better understand the working experience of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong. Besides, it will also help me to know more about the relationship of the migrant domestic workers with their employers, whether they faced any abuse or discrimination while working in Hong Kong, were they ever been exploited by their employers or recruitment agencies. Simultaneously, it will help me to determine whether the abuse and discrimination endured by migrant domestic works in the past is still the same or did it decline over time. At present, there are about 390,000 migrant domestic workers employed in Hong Kong. The majority of them are from the Philippines which are around 213,000, and approximately 167,000 from Indonesia (anon, 2019). For this project, a self-selection sampling method will be used where five migrant domestic workers will be interviewed. Furthermore, the participants will be selected with the consent and help of Mission For Domestic Workers(MFDW) which is an NGO that helps migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong. This organisation will help me to ask the migrant domestic workers who have been working or worked in Hong Kong for over a year as to whether they would like to participate in my research. In addition, three interviewees will be from the Philippines and two will be from Indonesia. As there are more migrant domestic workers from the Philippines than from Indonesia. Withal, the reason why there is such requirement is that it will help me to know more about how long did it take them to find a new employer after their contract was terminated and if they were unable to find a new place to work within 2 weeks, then where did they stay after the 2-week period was over.
3.1: Data Analysis
For this project, a thematic analysis will be used to analyze the data which is a method for recognizing, examining, and reporting themes within data (Boyatzis, 1998). This method is used because it is flexible and includes fundamental qualitative analysis skills. For instance, recognizing themes and classifying data. In contrast, it is not hypothetically confined like other qualitative methods such as Interpretative phenomenological analysis(IPA) and Grounded Theory (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Furthermore, the six steps guidelines indicated by Braun and Clarke (2006) to do thematic analysis will be used to ensure the explicitness. Which are (1) “familiarizing yourself with the data”, (2) “generating initial codes”, (3) “searching for themes”, (4) “reviewing themes”, (5) “defining and naming themes”, and (6) “producing the report. The data will be collected through recordings and once all the data has been collected, it will be stored on a server and a portable device that will be secured with a security password to protect the confidentiality of the participants and the data obtained. However, after the research is completed, the data will be destroyed from both the server and the portable device. Withal, these findings will be appropriate for this project as it will give more in-depth explanations while addressing key issues.
3.2: Limitations and Ethics
There are a vast number of migrant domestic workers currently working in Hong Kong. However, due to time restrictions, only 5 amongst 390,000 migrant domestic workers will be interviewed. As a result, there might be many migrant domestic workers who have be treated well by their employers and many others who have suffered from brutality and hostility are not interviewed. Also, the level of abuse and discrimination may vary from case to case. Simultaneously, it was also not possible to interview the Equal Opportunity Commission(EOC) officials who deal with the complaints regarding discrimination due to time restrictions. In addition, there are also some possible ethical issues associated with this research. Migrant domestic workers can be considered as a vulnerable group, they might get very emotional while talking about their working experience in Hong Kong, especially when they are the victims of racial discrimination and abuse. Nevertheless, there are some non-government organizations, such as Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) and Help for Domestic Workers (HELP), which provide legal and emotional support to migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong. As a result, if domestic workers feel emotionally distressed or need any other necessary help, they will be told to seek help from these organizations.
Chapter 4: Research results
Five migrant domestic workers were interviewed in total. One on one interviews were conducted with the three domestic workers from the Philippines. However, the interviews conducted with the two Indonesian workers required an interpreter, as they could not understand English. The interpreter was the chairwoman of Mission For Migrant Workers (MFMW). As the chairwoman was not a professional interpreter, there was a possibility of misinterpretation. However, my Cantonese listening skills are better than my spoken skills, so I was able to comprehend what was being said. As a result, I was able to get the answers required for my research. In this section, the 6 themes that were generated from the analysis will be discussed.
Theme 1: Recruitment agency fee
All the participants got a job through an agency in their home countries. However, their agency fee and payment methods are different. Two Filipino domestic workers had to pay 100,000 pesos which are around 15,000 HKD, and one of them had to pay 65,000 pesos which are around 10,000 HKD. Withal, these workers must settle the payment first before coming to Hong Kong. As one of the interviewees mentioned that:
“Before I came here, I needed to pay full payment. I had to borrow money first to pay the recruitment fee to the agency”.
Another interviewee mentioned that:
“I paid in the Philippines around 65,000 pesos, and I paid for everything first in the Philippines. I took a loan from the bank to pay my agency fee”.
Another interviewee mentioned that:
“I have to settle all the payments first before coming, like the training fee…like everything”.
However, the two Indonesian domestic workers had to pay their agency fee in installments after coming to Hong Kong. One of them had to pay 2,014 HKD for six months which is 12,084 HKD in total. Likewise, the other worker had to pay 3,000 HKD for seven months when she first came to Hong Kong, which is 21,000 HKD in total. Additionally, for her second employment, she had to pay 2,700 for seven months which is 18,900 HKD in total.
As a result, it indicates that different agencies charge different fees and have different payment methods. Moreover, it has been shown that Pilipino domestic workers had to take loans to pay their agency fee.
Theme 2: Monthly income and where does it go
All the interviewees received more than 4,000 HKD every month. The first interviewee (Filipino) received 4,520 HKD per month and when asked how much does she had to send back home, she stated that:
“I send 4,000 HKD every month. When I come here, I need to send back money to pay back the money that I borrowed. But not all for my payment, some is for my family”.
The second interviewee’s (Filipino) salary was 4,100 Hong Kong dollars when she first came to Hong Kong. However, it has been increased to 4,410 Hong Kong dollars. When asked how much does she send back, she stated that:
“I send 3,800 HKD every month…the rest is for me”.
The third interviewee (Filipino) stated that:
“For my first employment, my monthly salary was 4,210 HKD and then she (employer) increased to 4,400 HKD. For my current employment, my monthly salary is 4,520”.
She also mentioned that:
“Before I sent 5,000 pesos (around 763 HKD), depending on my kids’ needs. Now I send 2,000 HKD”.
The fourth interviewee (Indonesian) mentioned that she receives 4,410 HKD every month and the fifth interviewee (Indonesian) stated that when she first came to Hong Kong, her salary was 3,000 HKD every month which was 10 years ago. However, the payment of her previous job was 4,010 HKD.
Hence, the above findings indicate that there is no fixed salary of migrant domestic workers as it mostly depends on the employers. However, most of them had an increase in salary over the years. Besides, the domestic workers spend most of their income to pay for their loans or recruitment fee during the first half-year of their work and they can only be able to save some money once they settle all their debts.
Theme 3: Necessities and privacy
Most of the domestic workers have no privacy in their employer’s house as they do not have their room. One of the domestic workers (Pilipino) stated that:
“I sleep in the living room, I have a bunk bed”.
Another employer (Pilipino) stated that:
“In my first employment, I slept in the kitchen, there was no room for me”.
Also, the two Indonesian workers said that as they had to take care of the elderly, they had to sleep in the same room which had two beds. Withal, when considering the proper meals, some of them are fine with the meals they receive. However, some of them feel that the food is not enough, or they are not provided with food three times a day. One of the domestic worker (Pilipino) mentioned that:
“Their (employer) food is different from our food. Sometimes they only eat noodles and we need to eat heavy”.
Another domestic worker (Pilipino) said that:
“My former employer only gave me dinner I used to buy my breakfast. For lunch, they said okay, here is 100 dollars, go buy food from the market…She (employer) gave 100 dollars for one week”.
Moreover, one of the migrant domestic workers from the Philippines was not allowed to take a shower until 10 p.m.
From the above findings, it is clearly shown that domestic workers are not usually provided with a separate room mainly due to the small flats in Hong Kong. Additionally, some employers are not provided with enough meals and have some restrictions on taking showers.
Theme 4: Work routine and holidays
All the domestic workers have to work for 15 hours or more every day. They usually do housework or take care of the elderly. Furthermore, some of them are allowed to have some rest during the day while some are not. One of the interviewees stated that:
“I wake up at 6 a.m. and sleep at 9 P.m., but I have to rest during the day. They(employer) give me time to rest and sleep during the day time”.
Another interviewee stated that:
“I start working from 5:30 am until 10:00 pm, even if I do it fast, even if I sit down in the kitchen, they don’t allow me”.
Besides, when it comes to rest days, some of them are allowed to have a day off every week while some of them are not. Also, some of the domestic workers are not given statutory holidays.
One of the interviewees stated that:
“My rest days are four Sundays in a month and if there are holidays then I also go out on the holidays”.
Even though some of them have a day off, it does not last for 24 hours. One of the interviewees stated that:
“She (employer) said that I have a house rule that you need to follow, she said to me, okay you can have a holiday. In the morning, you can go out but you have to be here at around 7:30 in the evening. Then, I need to continue working, like doing a vacuum and cleaning the dishes. It is very tiring.”
Since domestic workers have to stay in their employer’s house, they have to work for long hours every day. Likewise, some of them are also exploited because they are not given a full holiday and if they work on their holidays, some of them are not even paid for it. Upon asking ‘were you paid extra for working on Sundays’? One of the interviewees said that no she wasn’t paid extra.
Theme 5: Racial discrimination and protection of rights
Only one of the five interviewees, an Indonesian domestic worker, was not aware of what racial discrimination is. Furthermore, some of them disclosed that they did encounter racial discrimination in Hong Kong. One of the Indonesian domestic workers declared that her employers did not like her. They usually shouted at her and said to her that “you are dirty”. Also, a Pilipino domestic worker stated that:
“I feel like there was discrimination in my previous employment because I am just a helper and they look at me like I am very lower than them”.
Besides, most of the domestic workers believe that their rights are not well protected in Hong Kong. One of the interviewees stated that:
“it’s a bit unfair because seven years is a long time for us to work with them. Some of us want to move here because of the standards of living here, but we cannot. We should be given that (right of abode)”.
Some other interviewees said that the Hong Kong government should ensure that our rights are well protected. One of the interviewees said:
“The government should ensure that domestic workers should be treated fairly, even if we are only maids there should be some respect”.
Another interviewee stated that:
“Government should ensure that domestic workers are being treated well in their employer’s house like they should have their privacy and are being paid”.
It is clearly indicated from the above results that to a certain extent, some of the migrant domestic workers still face racial discrimination in Hong Kong. In addition, they feel that their rights are not well protected. Hence, the Hong Kong government should do something about it.
Theme 6: Ill-treatment and termination
Some of the domestic workers did not have pleasant working experience in their employer’s house. One of the interviewees revealed that:
“One time my sir almost hit me, but my madam shouted at my sir and said stop. They were angry because the new clothes of the kids mix up the colour…..I was just following the orders of my madam”.
Another interviewee stated that:
“The children used to hit me and say bad words, they were 8 and 7 years old. When my madam was angry with me, she did not use a higher voice, but her words were very sharp and hurting”.
Additionally, three of the interviewees were terminated by their employers. The first interviewee filed a complaint against her employer in the Equal Opportunity Commission (ECO). The interviewee disclosed that:
“She (employer) terminated me due to my breast mass and she is denying, that’s why the Equal Opportunity Commission stopped the investigation because I have no proof….madam denied that they know about my breast mass….the termination letter said financial loss”.
Another interviewee was dismissed because she was accused of stealing things. She also complained to the labour department because when she was terminated her employer didn’t pay her. They told her that she didn’t have to take her luggage and just go. So, her luggage is still there, and her salary is not yet paid. In addition, the interviewee was also arrested because her employer lodged a complaint. Thus, she was in police custody for 48 hours. Her case is still in progress, so she cannot get back her money until the judgment from the court.
Accordingly, some domestic workers endure bad treatment from their employers because they are afraid of losing their jobs. However, if some of them do, they face some problems due to the legal proceedings and special immigration regulations set for Migrant domestic workers that will be discussed further in the next chapter.
Chapter 5: Discussion
In this section, there will be a comparison between the past and the present working experience of the migrant domestic workers and the way they were treated by their employers in Hong Kong.
5.1: Recruitment fees and Monthly Income
Most migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong are originally hired and placed with an employer by employment agencies. As, in 2009 the department of Labour and Employment(DOLE) prohibited the direct recruitment of foreign domestic workers, where workers and employers were able to have a contractual relationship without involving agencies (Abdon-Tellez, 2009). Therefore, they have no other option but to pay exceptionally high recruitment fees. Domestic workers are normally overcharged by the agencies, which is usually up to HKD 21,000 (Asian Migrant Centre (AMC), Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (IMWU), The Hong Kong Coalition of Indonesian Migrant Workers Organization (KOTKIHO), 2007). According to my research findings, Filipino domestic workers settle the payment before coming to Hong Kong for which they take a loan, as they do not have enough money to pay for their application procedure. Hence, they pay their loan while working in Hong Kong. They usually pay these loans to a financial institution in Hong Kong or they send money to their relatives to pay on their behalf in the Philippines. Thus, the amount paid by domestic workers is usually allocated between the loan company and recruitment agency (Mission For Migrant Workers Ltd (2012). However, Indonesian domestic workers must settle the payment after coming to Hong Kong and since there is no in-country training for domestic workers in Indonesia, Indonesian domestic workers can only seek employment through recruitment agencies in Hong Kong. Under section 57 of the Employment Ordinance and the Employment Agency regulations (Cap 57A), the recruitment agencies cannot charge a commission of more than 10% of her first month’s income (Lee & Petersen, 2006). Unfortunately, migrant domestic workers are still overcharged. According to one of the research studies by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Indonesian domestic workers paid fees past the legal amount starting from “HKD 1,532 for six months to HKD 3,000 for seven months” (Ignacio & Meijia, 2009). Besides, according to a survey conducted in 2006, around 76% of the Indonesian domestic workers paid the recruitment fee more than the legal amount. For instance, they had to pay HKD 22,890 which was more than their 7 months’ salary (Caritas Community Development Service; Asian Migrant Workers Social Service Project, 2006). Likewise, according to my findings, one of the Indonesian migrant workers has to pay HKD 2,700 for seven months and another interviewee had to pay 20,14 for six months. Also, it was announced by the Hong Kong government in September 2019, that the minimum allowable wage (MAW) for migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong has been increased from HKD4,520 to HKD 4,630 per month (GovHK Press release, 2019). This means that at the time these migrant domestic workers paid their agency fees, their salary should not be less than HKD, 4,520 per month. Also, according to the Hong Kong Law, “other than the specified commission which is at present set at 10% of the first-month salary of the domestic worker after successful placement, recruitment agencies are forbidden from charging directly or indirectly from domestic workers any fees” (Hong Kong Labour Department, n.d). Thus, the amount payable to the employment agency should be no more than HKD 452.
Table 1: Monthly income of Indonesian Domestic worker
|Interviewee 1||Interviewee 2|
|Monthly income||HKD 4,410||HKD 40,10|
|10% for agency fee||HKD 441||HKD 401|
|Actual amount paid to the agency||2,700/ month||2,014/ month|
As seen from the above table, unfortunately, both the interviewees were extremely overcharged by the employment agencies. Withal, the HKSAR Labour Department obtained 73 complaints in 2011 by migrant domestic workers filed against recruitment agencies for overcharging (Amnesty International, 2013). As a result, when comparing the recruitment agency fees paid by the migrant domestic workers in the past and present, it is relatively the same as migrant domestic workers are still overcharged by the employment agencies.
Correspondingly, at the time of the interviews, the Minimum Allowable wage set by the Hong Kong government for migrant domestic workers was HKD 4,520.
Table 2: Monthly wage of Filipino Domestic workers
|Interviewee 1||HKD 4,520|
|Interviewee 2||HKD 4,410|
|Interviewee 3||HKD 4,520|
In accordance with table 1 and table 2, only two interviewees who are from Philippians were paid the Minimum Allowable Wage (AMW) and the remaining three were paid way lower than that. Likewise, according to one of the research studies, exploitation of income had a great significance between Indonesian domestic workers in comparison to the workers from other countries (Caritas Community Development Service; Asian Migrant Workers Social Service Project, 2006). The 2005 underpayment report by Asian Migrant Centre (AMC)showed that at that time, 42% of the Indonesian migrant domestic worker get the wage lower than the statutory level (Asian Migrant Centre (AMC); Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (IMWU); The Hong Kong Coalition of Indonesian Migrant Workers Organization (KOTKIHO), 2007). Likewise, another study revealed that the Indonesian domestic workers who were underpaid only received 54% to 60% of the Minimum Allowable Wage (MAW). However, that study revealed that none of the Filipino domestic workers received the wage less than the legal level (Caritas Community Development Service; Asian Migrant Workers Social Service Project, 2006). Moreover, the distinction in wages is a marketing strategy for recruitment agencies and sometimes, the underpayment of income is an unlawful alignment between employers and agencies (Battistella & Paganoni, 1996). As a result, it is clearly shown that there are still some Indonesian domestic workers who are underpaid while Pilipino domestic workers do not face major underpayment issues. However, it does not mean that all Pilipino domestic workers receive the rightful wage, as one of my interviewees who is from the Philippines obtained the wage as lower as the Indonesian domestic workers who were interviewed.
5.2 Necessities and privacy
According to the employment contract, the employer should give free necessities to migrant domestic workers. Similarly, it is stated in the “Guidebook for the Employment of Domestic workers from Abroad” which is provided by the Immigration Department of HKSAR that, migrant domestic workers shall be given appropriate accommodation and with decent privacy. For example, migrant domestic workers should be provided with proper beds and should not be forced to share a room with an adult or adolescent of the opposite gender. Likewise, employers should provide free food to the domestic workers, and if the food is not provided then, the food allowance set by the HKSAR government should be given which is HKD 1,121 per month (Kanako, 2019). Employers are obliged to follow these rules as, under clause 3 of the employment contract, migrant domestic workers must work and stay in their employer’s house (Amnesty International). Otherwise, the contract will not be approved by the HKSAR Immigration Department. Most of the migrant domestic workers interviewed by Amnesty International stated that they had to sleep on a makeshift bed in a corridor, in the living room, kitchen, storage room or had to share a room with their employers or their kids. Furthermore, they also mentioned that the beds were not usually provided so they have to sleep on armchairs, sofas, or mattresses (Amnesty International, 2013). Accordingly, my research findings revealed that most of the migrant domestic workers did not have decent privacy and two of the interviewees had to sleep in the living room and in the kitchen which is not appropriate according to the Immigration department’s regulation. However, not all but most migrant domestic workers have little to no privacy, as one of my interviewees also mentioned that her second employer is very kind, and she has her own room. Withal, when it comes to food, most of the migrant domestic workers are not provided with enough food and it is concerning because the quality and the quantity of the food is not mentioned under the employment ordinance or standard contract. In the past, most of the Indonesian workers face food-related problems because they are Muslims, and they do not eat pork. Even though they are not forced to eat, they are required to buy and prepare it, and when the employers eat pork, some of the domestic workers are given an option to either eat pork or to eat nothing (Mission For Migrant Workers Ltd, 2012). The two Indonesian domestic workers I interviewed revealed that they must buy and cook pork however they are not forced to eat it and they still have the option to eat other food. But, one of them declared that “female employer was pushier…like, eat that”. Moreover, one of the Pilipino domestic workers stated that she was not provided a proper meal 3 times per day, so she has to buy her own meal. She also mentioned that when she told her employer that she is violating the law, the employer gave her HKD 100 per week to buy her food which is not enough and is against the Hong Kong regulations. Also, according to a survey, 14% of the migrant domestic workers stated that they had to pay “out-of-pocket” to pay for their food (Ignacio & Meijia, 2009). In addition, the migrant domestic workers who are provided with food said that the food is not enough as one of my interviewees stated that they have to eat heavy and the food they are being provided is not filling. As a result, food was a major concern among migrant domestic workers in the past and it still exists in the present as most of them are either not given food at all or are provided with very little, and as they have to work a lot, they need to eat more as well to sustain their energy.
5.3: Working Hours and rest days
The live-in requirement set by the Hong Kong government for migrant domestic workers makes it difficult to differentiate the working hours of migrant domestic workers from their time off. With reference to my research findings, all the domestic workers have to work for 15 hours or more. Similarly, Amnesty International stipulated that migrant domestic workers had to work for 17 hours per day on average, and most of them were also “on call 24 hours” (Amnesty International, 2013). In addition, one of my participants also mentioned that she had to work for more than 17 hours and she was not allowed to rest in between. One of the reasons why migrant domestic workers are exploited and have to work for extremely long hours is that under Hong Kong law, the limited working hours for migrant domestic workers are not stated. In addition, the time of the domestic workers is controlled by their employers as they have to do certain work at specific times. For instance, the majority of the domestic workers have to wake up and go to bed at the same time every day and they mostly have the same daily working schedule as well, which can be quite frenetic. (Constable, 2007). As one of the interviewees mentioned that her every move was timed, and she had to strictly follow the time. Apart from this, migrant domestic workers are exploited through forced labour which is not stated in their contract. One of my participants revealed that it was stated in her contract that she can only work in Hong Kong. However, her employers also forced her to work in Mainland China and she was not paid for it as well. Correspondingly, another interviewee disclosed that according to her contract she had to take care of the elderly in her house, but her employers forced her to work in their other apartment as well. Withal, another interviewee stated that her employer told her to do the work in the church and said that she can earn some more money. Nevertheless, the interviewee refused to work in the church and told her employer that it is illegal. Under the standard employment contract, migrant domestic workers are strictly urged to only stay and work in their employer’s address which is stated in the contract and is prohibited to work anywhere else. Moreover, according to a survey report, more than 21% of migrant domestic workers were told to work in places not stated in their contract which solemnly contravened the terms and conditions of a standard contract (Caritas Community Development Service; Asian Migrant Workers Social Service Project, 2006). As stated under the Employment Ordinance, workers should be granted “four rest days per month” and statutory holidays which should be no less than 24 hours each. Unfortunately, not many migrant domestic workers are provided with 4 holidays per month or statutory holidays, and even if some of them do get rest days, it does not last for 24 hours. In accordance with my research findings, most of the domestic workers were not given 4 days off a month or statutory holidays and those who were given rest days, some of them had to work before going out for their holiday or they had to come back early and continue working. A survey report also indicated that there were curfew hours imposed on the majority of migrant domestic workers and they complained that they had to work on their rest days as well (Caritas Community Development Service; Asian Migrant Workers Social Service Project, 2006). However, if the domestic worker is working on her rest day she should be paid extra for it, yet most of them are not paid for their extra work. Hence, it has been proven by previous studies and my research findings that the majority of migrant domestic workers are denied a weekly rest day, or it does not last for 24 hours. It also shows that the past and the present situation faced by migrant domestic workers regarding rest days is the same.
5.4 Bad working experience and termination
Bad working experience in Hong Kong is not a novel concept for most migrant domestic workers due to their working nature, since they are exposed to physical and verbal abuse. According to my research findings, four out of five migrant domestic workers faced verbal abuse while one of them was almost hit by her employer and another interviewee was physically and verbally abused by her employer’s children as well. Likewise, with reference to one of the research studies, many migrant domestic workers stated that children are also a potential cause of the dispute between migrant domestic workers and their employers. As, most of the children are told by their parents that domestic workers are just their maids and if the children physically or verbally abuse the domestic worker, they will not be stopped or punished by their parents (Constable, 2007). My interviewee also told me that the children used to hit her and say bad words in front of their parents, but they were not stopped. Withal, most of my interviewees mentioned that their employers usually shout at them. According to Battistella and Paganoni (1996), verbal revile is recurrent as a manifestation of domineering with domestic workers being yelled at, chastised and humiliated. Moreover, physical abuse may not be frequent in actuality, yet domestic workers are afraid of being physically struck by their employers as the employers would feign to hit them. Hence, employers tend to abuse their workers to show their power. Fortunately, none of my interviewees faced severe physical abuse by their employers. However, there were many migrant domestic workers in the past who not only suffered from physical abuse, but they endure sexual abuse as well. In consonance with the survey conducted by the mission for migrant workers in 2013, 58% of the migrant domestic workers were verbally abused, 18% of them were physically abused and 6% of them were sexually abused by their employers. Sadly, there is a dark figure as well because many migrant domestic workers are not aware of Hong Kong laws and do not know how to lodge a complaint (Amnesty International 2013). One of the many domestic workers’ cases gained international attention and outrage. This case was about Erwiana Sulistyaningsih who was an Indonesian domestic worker and was brutally tortured by her employer. Her treatment was depicted as slavery. She was not given any rest days for 8 months and was restricted to her employer’s flat. In addition, the maltreatment was so extreme that she never fully recovered from her wounds (Wahyudi & Allmark, 2016). Withal, Erwiana was threatened by her employer that if she ever informed anyone about the abuse her parents would be killed (Hewson, 2014). Dismally, there are many other migrant domestic workers who possibly suffer severe abuse by their employers, yet their cases are not reported due to various reasons. Premature termination is one of the reasons why migrant domestic workers do not file any complaint against their employers. Yet, there are still many migrant domestic workers who face early termination. 3 of my participants revealed that they were prematurely terminated at least once while working in Hong Kong. Furthermore, my interviewees who suffered from abuse disclosed that they did not complain about the abuse because they were afraid of losing their jobs. Accordingly, one of them even concealed her health condition from her new employer in fear of losing her job. The reason why migrant domestic workers come to Hong Kong and work is to earn money for their families. However, they can only start earning for their family in the second year of their job. Thus, they must keep their jobs, so they endure the maltreatment (Battistella & Paganoni, 1996).
5.5 Racial discrimination and HKSAR regulations
Migrant domestic workers also suffer from racial discrimination along with other obstacles while working in Hong Kong. They usually face discrimination due to their ethnic background. Hence, “racial-ethnic discrimination is a practice deliberated intentionally or unintentionally, and it includes a direct action or behaviour that applies apparent negative effects on the racial ethnic-minority (Feagin & Feagin, 1986). some of the domestic workers I interviewed said that they faced racial discrimination and felt that their employers consider them lower and use very demeaning terms such as “dirty” or in other cases “stupid”. According to Ladegaard (2019), migrant domestic workers are given such labels because they are considered inferior. In addition, Migrant domestic workers insist on being given the same rights granted to foreign professionals, they also said that they should not be discriminated against for their occupation and the 2-week rule should not be imposed on them (Huang, 2005). 2-week rule and live-in requirements are imposed on migrant domestic workers by the Hong Kong Immigration Department to regulate the existence of a great number of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong. However, it violates the human and labour rights of these workers. Moreover, unlike other foreign workers, migrant domestic workers cannot gain permanent citizenship even after staying in Hong Kong for more than 7 years which is quite unfair and discriminatory as they cannot enjoy equal statutory rights like other residents in Hong Kong (Mission For Migrant Workers Ltd, 2012). However, it does not mean that migrant domestic workers are not given any rights in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, they face greater difficulties in enforcing those rights. As in theory, if migrant domestic workers are underpaid or suffer from any kind of abuse they can complain to the pertinent authorities. Yet in practice, they are often discouraged to file a complaint which grants the opportunity to employers and recruitment agencies to contravene law with minimal fear of being prosecuted. Likewise, Migrant domestic workers are not allowed to change their employer until their contract is finished. Therefore, if their contract is terminated, they only have two weeks to find a new employer and must go back to their home country for the new employment proceedings. Thus, it prevents migrant domestic workers to lodge a complaint against their employer as they have the power to terminate the working visa of their workers. Similarly, If the migrant domestic workers lounge a complaint with the Hong Kong Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) regarding any kind of discrimination and abuse, their contract will most probably be terminated by their employer. As a result, they cannot apply for another employer or go back to their home country while the case is being investigated which makes it difficult for them to support themselves (Lee & Petersen, 2006). In accordance with my research findings, one of the Indonesian domestic workers filed a complaint against her employer who accused her of theft and terminated her without paying. However, her case is still under legal trial for 2 years now, and since then she is staying in Baton house, a shelter home by Mission For Migrant Workers (MFMW). She have to renew her visa every month and pay HKD 230. As she is jobless and has no money, Baton house pays for her visa application. Withal, she was also told by the labour department that she will not be given paid until there is a verdict from the court. Thus, it clearly shows that most of the migrant domestic workers have to endure a lot while working in Hong Kong and there is still some room for improvement in Hong Kong’s law and legislation to protect the rights of migrant domestic workers.
Chapter 6: Conclusion and recommendations
The objectives of this research study were to know more about the present working experience of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong and to compare it with the experience of migrant domestic workers in the past. Withal, to know the rules and regulations imposed on Migrant domestic workers by the Hong Kong SAR government. Another objective of this research was to know why migrant domestic workers tolerate discrimination and abuse. The demand for migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong is exceptionally high due to a greater number of Hong Kong females entering the labour force. Thus, many migrant domestic workers are coming from different Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh, Thailand Indonesia, and the Philippines. However, the vast majority of them are from the Philippines and Indonesia. Therefore, they were the focus group of this research study. According to the literature findings, migrant domestic workers face many complications while working in Hong Kong. Their struggle starts from the beginning of the hiring process as they must seek a job through recruitment agencies that charge extremely high fees from domestic workers. They choose to work in Hong Kong because they feel like wages in Hong Kong are higher than in other places in the world. Nevertheless, when they come to Hong Kong, they are exposed to exploitation and abuse. According to the Hong Kong regulations, migrant domestic workers must live with their employers while working in Hong Kong. Most of the migrant domestic workers have to work for exceptionally long hours with no rest days, some of them are even on call for 24/7 and they are not even paid for it. Underpayment is also one of the major perturbations of migrant domestic workers. Also, they are not given enough privacy and proper accommodation. For instance, the majority of the migrant domestic workers did not have their room and they slept in the kitchen or the living room. Also, most of them have concerns regarding the food they are given especially Indonesian domestic workers as they are Muslims and they cannot eat pork. However, in accordance with the Hong Kong SAR government, migrant domestic workers should only pay 10% of their first month’s salary to the recruitment agencies. They should be given statutory holidays and a day off every week which should be no less than 24 hours. In addition, the employers should pay the Minimum Allowable wage(MAW) set by the Hong Kong Government and they should be provided with a meal or meal allowance. Likewise, they should be given privacy and a proper place to sleep. Migrant domestic workers are given rights by the Hong Kong SAR government. However, it is difficult for them to enforce their rights. Even though migrant domestic workers are granted rights, there are also some restrictions imposed on them which can violate the human and labour rights of the migrant domestic workers and can be considered discriminatory. For instance, the live-in requirement exposes migrant domestic workers to various types of abuse. Accordingly, under the 2-week rule, migrant domestic workers have to find another employer within 2- weeks or must go back to their home country if their contract is terminated or expired and they are also not allowed to change their employer before their contract is over which is for 2 years. Similarly, migrant domestic workers are not given a right of abode even if they stayed and worked in Hong Kong for over 7 years.
The data was collected through interviews with 2 Indonesian domestic workers and 3 Pilipino domestic workers to know more about the present working experience of migrant domestic workers. Filipino domestic workers had to take a loan and settle their recruitment fees before coming to Hong Kong, while Indonesian domestic workers had to settle their payment through installments within 6 to 7 months after coming to Hong Kong. It was revealed from my findings that migrant domestic workers had to pay exceptionally high recruitment fees. Besides, most of them were not given less than the Minimum Allowable Wage (MAW) set by the Hong Kong SAR government. Most of the migrant domestic workers were not given enough privacy as not many of them had their room due to limited space in Hong Kong flats, they had to sleep in Kitchen, living room or share a room with their employers. Under the standard employment contract by the Hong Kong Immigration Department, Employers should provide a proper meal or meal allowance set by the government to Migrant domestic workers. However, the definition of a proper meal is quite vague. Therefore, according to employers, whatever they give seems enough. Unfortunately, most of the interviewees stated that the meal is okay as, due to their working nature, they must eat more. Also, they believe that Chinese food is light, and they need to eat heavy. Moreover, Indonesian workers have a major concern when it comes to food as they cannot eat pork and eating pork is very famous among Chinese people. Even though Indonesian Domestic workers must cook pork they were not forced to eat it and had an option to eat other food. My findings also revealed that migrant domestic workers have to work for more than 15 hours every day. Thus, a rest day is very crucial for them. However, some of them were not given a day off or statutory holidays and even if they get a day off it did not last for 24 hours as they had to work before leaving the house or after coming back and some of them were not even paid for it. Moreover, most of my interviewees did endure verbal abuse and discrimination by their employers or family members. 2 of them were also told to do things that were not stated in their contract. Most of them endure the unpleasant treatment because they are afraid to lose their job which has to do something with the Hong Kong Law as well. After gathering all the information from the literature review and my research, it can be concluded that migrant domestic workers still go through various issues and suffer a lot while working in Kong. However, it does not mean that all the domestic workers have a bad working experience in Hong Kong. As some of my participants did have good working experience. Nevertheless, when considering why different migrant domestic workers have different working experience if they have the same working nature, it can be explained through how different employers treat their workers. As some of them are very kind while some are very cruel. Also, not many employers are aware of all the rights of migrant domestic works. However, those who are, they do not follow the rules. There are also some limitations to this study as due to the time limit, not many domestic workers were interviewed. Therefore, there might be other migrant domestic workers who have good working experience or some with real cruel working experience where migrant domestic workers have possibly suffered from sexual and physical abuse. Thus, to know more about whether the working experience of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong improved or not, further research study is required with clear majority of participants.
While conducting this research study, I have learned about the struggles that migrant domestic workers go through in Hong Kong and how the Hong Kong laws and regulations play an important part in it. Therefore, after all my research and learning experience about this topic, I strongly believe that there will not be any drastic change in the working experience of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong or how their employers treat them unless the Hong Kong SAR government, Hong Kong Labour Department, and Hong Kong Immigration Department ensure that the laws and regulations they have imposed on migrant domestic workers or the rights given to them are enforced in a just manner. Withal, all the relevant authorities should make sure that both the employers and migrant domestic workers know about these rights and if the rights are being violated or the laws are being contravened, then this should be taken seriously to avoid any violation of human or labour rights of migrant domestic workers.
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