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Hong Kong - The Other Struggle

Domestic workers are the lowest-paid group of labourers in Hong Kong, with a minimum monthly wage of HKD$4,630 ($590) and are required by law to live in their employers' homes.

According to a 2018 Hong Kong census, there are 386,075 migrant workers in Hong Kong. As of last year, there were around 166,000 Indonesian domestic helpers in Hong Kong, the second largest population after domestic workers from the Philippines. Cases of abuse of workers by employers have long been reported in Hong Kong, with ill-treatment ranging from forcing them to work excessive hours to physical beatings and death threats.

Domestic helpers in Hong Kong 
They live in a precarious state - they are often overworked, underpaid and lack protective labour policies, said Eman Villanueva, a migrant worker from the Philippines and spokesperson for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body.

Unlike expatriates from other foreign countries who are eligible to apply for residency after seven years, Southeast Asian migrant workers have no legal route to citizenship.
"Because of the existing government policies with regards to visas, we are all temporary migrants," said Villanueva, who has worked in Hong Kong for 28 years.

Domestic workers are the lowest-paid group of labourers in Hong Kong, with a minimum monthly wage of HKD$4,630 ($590) and are required by law to live in their employers' homes.

By comparison, the median monthly wage across all industry sectors as of 2018 in Hong Kong is HKD $17,500 ($2,231). According to the Hong Kong Immigration Department, for employers to be eligible to hire a domestic helper, they must make no less than HKD $15,000 ($1,912) per month. Even so, foreign workers contribute HKD$98.9 billion to Hong Kong's economy, according to a report published in March.

Sring Atin, chairperson of the Indonesian Migrant Worker's Union in Hong Kong, said domestic helpers' rights, which are not always guaranteed in normal conditions, are being further violated as a result of the protests. Workers have complained to Atin that employers are demanding extra hours to accommodate their participation in protest activities - for example, to take care of children while they rally, or to remain at home during rest days out of concern for the domestic helpers' safety.

Ka Mei Lau, organising secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions, said migrant workers, like the protesters, have concerns about what autonomy means in practice regarding relationships with both employers and government.
They also feel they have a stake in Hong Kong's status within the "one country, two systems" framework and the extent of the Chinese government's control.

Ka Mei Lau, organising secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions, said migrant workers, like the protesters, have concerns about what autonomy means in practice regarding relationships with both employers and government.

They also feel they have a stake in Hong Kong's status within the "one country, two systems" framework and the extent of the Chinese government's control.

Two years ago, when reports were published about China's desire to recruit Philippine women as maids and English teachers, migrant workers expressed fears over whether they would be protected in China without the support network of unions and community groups that exist in Hong Kong.
"They are not sure about that. They have doubts," Lau said.

Some migrant community leaders and critics of the pro-democracy movement have also voiced concerns that the protests ignore or overshadow the demands of workers, such as freedom of assembly, the right to a living wage and suitable living conditions.

Migrant worker community groups frequently organise their own rallies relating to these issues, and have a history of participating in social movements in Hong Kong; they supported striking dock workers in 2013 and the anti-WTO protests in 2005.

"Our protest actions are not about extradition to China. They are about migrant rights," said IWMU's Atin, emphasising the need to keep the two causes separate.

Villanueva from the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body said domestic workers who had previously joined the pro-democracy movement have now opted out, fearing participation could cost them their visas and jobs, or undermine their ability to organise their own events in the future. "The challenge for us is to how to actually get into the picture, without placing ourselves in a dangerous situation. We want to make sure that when we raise the issues, it is not in a tone that will appear that we are blaming the protesters, because that's not our message," explained Villanueva."Our message is we are in Hong Kong and we are part of society and there are valid issues affecting us, with or without the protests, that the government would have to address.”

Sources: Al Jazeera

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