Hong Kong Expats
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Domestic Helpers Should Celebrate Lunar New Year Holidays Too

It is not uncommon for many Hong Kong domestic workers to work for at homes of their employers’ relatives during Chinese New Year. In return, helpers receive lai see giveaways.

Over the years, this practice has been done with the Labor Department 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 recognized and respected. We want to be treated as human beings,” said Eni Lestari, spokeswoman of the Asia Migrants’ Coordinating Body, which advocates on the rights of domestic helpers.

To align with laws that ban domestic helpers working outside of the address defined in their employment contract, employers should not always assume their helpers come here to make money. Hence, accept whatever orders they receive in exchange for monetary rewards.

When the Philippine government pressed the Hong Kong government to enact a law that 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 deterrent to prevent a repeat of past incidents.

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.

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