A common practice among many Hong Kong domestic workers during Chinese New Year is that they are expected to do their tasks at employers’ relatives homes, luring them with lai see giveaways that helpers receive once they perform cleaning, a major undertaking as Chinese people prepare for the new year.
Over the years, this practice has been done with the Labor Department apparently turning a blind eye on the issue, probably because both employers and domestic workers benefit — the latter with monetary rewards; the lack of formal complaints might also play a role.
“We want to be recognised and respected. We want to be treated as human beings,” said Eni Lestari, spokeswoman of the Asia Migrants’ Coordinating Body, which advocates on rights of domestic helpers.
To align with existing laws that prohibit domestic helpers working outside of the address defined in their employment contract, employers should not always assume their helpers come here to make money and thus, accept whatever orders they receive in exchange to monetary rewards.
When the Philippine government pressed the Hong Kong government to enact a law that from January 1, helpers should not be asked to clean the outside of any window located above the ground level, it created a legal basis to protect helpers and assurance that the four unfortunate incidents involving helpers plunging to their deaths while cleaning windows, would not be repeated.
Many Hong Kong families might consider their helpers as part of an extended family, so they tag them along when they visit families for Lunar New Year dinners. But once they get asked to fix the table or wash dishes outside of their employer’s homes just because they are labeled as helpers, that’s already against the law.
According to Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, chairwoman of the Employers of Domestic Helpers Association, pointed out that doing so would breach helpers’ contracts, even if employees were willing to do the work.
“The employers could be put on the ban list if the workers file complaints to the consulates. The consulates may not allow any domestic workers to work for them in the future,” Yung said, quoted at South China Morning Post.
In this year’s Lunar New Year holidays — Saturday, Monday and Tuesday — domestic helpers are expected to take a four-day off in a row, including the traditional day off on Sundays. But Lestari doubts domestic workers in Hong Kong will be able to enjoy their extended vacation since that would mean four days of having no one to do housework.
In some cases helpers are given other days off to offset the supposed four-year public holiday in this year’s Lunar New Year. But maybe many others would still be asked to work over the public holidays and not receive any compensation — whether day off on a future date or getting paid extra.