Domestic Helpers Deaths Spark Safety Concern

by Angela Cheung, Richelia Yeung and Winnie Ngai

Domestic workers rights groups are demanding better working conditions and human rights protection for maids. Their call comes after the fifth case of accidental death in August this year.

“The migrant domestic helpers might not be clear about the occupational safety,” said Leo Tang Kin-wa, Organizing Secretary of Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions.

Immigration Department figures show that there were about 3.4 million of foreign domestic helpers working in Hong Kong in 2015. More than 90 percent of them came from the Philippines and Indonesia.

“Most of the workers are living in rural areas. They can’t find such high buildings in their hometowns,” Tang explains.  He believes that the differences in living environment and culture are the main reasons for the tragedies.

Winarni Wiji Hastuti, a domestic helper who has worked in Hong Kong for almost seven years, said many maids are exploited.

“The contracts is are unclear. For example, some of the maids only realise they have to take care of three children instead of one as stated in the contract when they arrive at their employers’ homes,” she described. Winarni also mentioned that some employers even asked their maids to work in their friend’s house.

Dr. Lui Ching-wu, assistant professor of the Department of Asian and Policy Studies at The Education University of Hong Kong thinks that rules in the contract are only safeguarding the rights of employers. “Domestic workers are treated as helpers instead of people in the eyes of the government,” she said.

Apart from the grey area in the employment contract, Winarni said that some of her friends have been physically abused by their employers.

“They are slapped by their employers. Employees are scared to tell their friends and the employment agency,” Winarni said.

Tang said that most of the employers are also the employee, they are under pressure themselves. “These pressure may to some extents transfer to domestic workers at home,” he said.

Differences in language and culture often pose problems. Winarni mentions the relationship with employers. “For new domestic helpers, it is difficult to understand the language in Hong Kong,” she said.

Apart from that, Winarni said that holiday is important for migrant workers to rest and perform better at work.

“Holiday is my concern, a lot of foreign domestic helpers do not have enough holidays,” she said.

“We think that workers should be equal, no matter they are migrant or local workers, they shouldn’t be excluded from the labour protection,” Tang insisted. He believes that educating employers and clear guidelines on working conditions are the way to work out this situation.

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Winarni Wiji Hastuti, a domestic helper has been working in Hong Kong for almost eight years.  She says language barrier and cultural differences are the difficulties that maids face in Hong Kong.
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Leo Tang Kin-wa, Organizing Secretary of Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions, says the occupational safety, living condition and working hours of domestic workers are needed to be addressed in society.
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