Hundreds of migrant domestic workers peacefully march to Admiralty

Domestic workers form main contingent of HKCTU-led protest

Hundreds of migrant domestic workers peacefully marched from Victoria Park to the Central Government Offices in Admiralty on Friday, demanding the government take action on a range of issues, primarily a minimum wage of HK$4,110 which has lagged behind inflation.

“We are now a federation which includes every organisation here,” said Phobsuk Gasing, chairperson of the Thai Migrant Workers Union, gesturing to the throngs of people at Victoria Park.

“We need the Hong Kong [government] to listen to our demands and change things to protect us.”

The workers were the largest contingent among thousands at the May Day protest organised by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, or HKCTU. The group made 10 formal demands, including the establishment of statutory working hours of 44 per week, a universal pension policy, and an increase in the number of statutory holidays to 17 per year, up from 12.

Their diverse ranks were the main show Friday. A stage in Victoria Park on the periphery of the soccer pitch featured a solo guitar player, singers and dancers, and speeches by HKCTU General Secretary and LegCo member Lee Cheuk-yan.

The migrant domestic workers, hailing from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka and elsewhere made a range of demands. They implored the government to raise minimum monthly wages, crack down on illegal high employment agency fees, enforce regulations on long working hours, act to stop violence against domestic workers, and “ratify C189,” a reference to the I.L.O.’s 2011 Convention on Domestic Workers.

Eni Lestari, coordinator and spokesperson for the Asian Migrants’ coordinating body, was one of the leaders of the migrant domestic workers.

“We are calling for the HK government to increase the wage to HK$4500,” she said.

“This is the responsibility of the Hong Kong government. Even just one or two years ago we were already asking for HK$4500, because we have suffered a lot of the misery of inflation, both in Hong Kong and Indonesia.

“The government actually cut our wages in 2003 … because they needed to get a levy from employers. If you compare our wages, in 1998 our wages were HK$3860, but now in 2015, 17 years later, we only get HK$4,110, which is only a HK$250 difference. The number has not significantly increased, since all the prices have gone up … HK$4500 will give us a better living, better conditions, because we are also mothers, all of us are [providing for] our families.

“I would also like to emphasise the urgency for the Hong Kong government after the Erwiana [a worker who was brutally abused] case to do something.

“They promised to regulate her agency [Chan’s Asia] better. There is nothing that has been done so far. They should also make the visa and live-in policies flexible. Now we have to leave Hong Kong every time we change our employer … Even if you find a new employer in two weeks, you still have to leave Hong Kong.”

The abuses suffered by Hong Kong’s migrant domestic workers, owing to what many NGOs and rights groups say is a lack of motivation by the government to do anything but provide the barest legal provisions — not even, oftentimes, to enforce those provisions — have become legendary. Efforts to bring change have grown in recent months and years, in large part thanks to the public awareness generated by rallies and high-profile cases of abuse reaching mainstream media.

Open Door was also at the Labour Day march on Friday. It believes that every worker, whether local or migrant, deserves time for leisure and rest, as well as wages that sustain a dignified life.

Scott Carpenter 

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