POLITICS – HK Time Out Magazine – Column #13

I’m currently contributing a short, light-hearted political column to Hong Kong Time Out Magazine. Below is the uncut, original version of my latest piece…

Maid in the Mainland
Was I right to feel like some idle, neo-colonial taskmaster in hiring a domestic helper for a day, or was I just being a wet hippy? Despite being wrought with guilt after asking a friend’s maid to tackle my grimy kitchen, the penny dropped when she repeatedly thanked me for the extra work. Somehow, I only then realised that migrant domestic workers wanted to be employed, and employers wanted to employ them – something I was blinded to amidst the politics.

Recent visits to Jakarta and Manila gave me an insight into where these workers were coming from, and where their remittances were ending up. These women have, in fact, carved a route out of hardship and are the saviours of HK’s middle classes, who often rely on them to help juggle the city’s insane working culture with raising a family.

Despite this, the plight of our foreign domestic helpers remains a just cause – their wage packet ($3580) has barely risen since the 90s, whilst a quarter are said to have suffered mistreatment. The government’s ‘2 week law’ – condemned by the UN – traps employees in exploitative situations by forcing out-of-work maids to find a new job within a fortnight. HK’s 260,000 maids are also exempt from ever gaining residency.

As discussion over mainland maids returns, the heightened competition is likely to push pay and conditions further down. Meanwhile, unions protest tirelessly for improvements but can expect little from the new city-wide minimum wage legislation. The Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants wants to see the flimsy Minimum Allowable Wage replaced with the more stringent conditions in the new bill, with a limit on working hours and accommodation charged separately. This would equal out as a modest rise with more employee protection. Our city still has a long way to go in achieving decent worker’s rights and equality – respecting the workforce that keeps HK working would be a fitting starting point.

Time Out Column - 14.10.09

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