More work and less resting time and space under COVID-19, for domestic workers in Ma On Shan

During several weeks in May and June 2020, Open Door conducted a survey of domestic workers gathered in public areas during the coronavirus. Our aim was to find out how these residents of Ma On Shan are being affected, and what kinds of problems they might have. Based on this, we think that we – Hong Kong people in Ma On Shan – can do more to make sure the domestic workers who work here have enough time and space for rest, and are being well-treated by their employers and by the community. As long as some of them are not safe and well, physically and mentally, it means that success in fighting the virus can not be as great, and also the quality of care for our children and loved ones might be affected.

Our survey collected 56 responses. Out of these, [ 92.9%] were Filipino, and [7.1% ] were Indonesian. The average age of the workers was 39.2 years old. 57.9% of domestic helpers were from Ma On Shan; others were from other areas of Hong Kong, for example, Mong Kok and Shatin.

94.2% said that their employers did provide protective materials to them.
Most employers (83.9%) supply masks for domestic helpers, alcohol lotion and sanitizer. Some employers (23.2%) supply vitamin C. If the employer does not provide anti-epidemic equipment to them, more than 90 percent of the domestic workers will buy their own, and only 6.25 percent of them can receive donations from charity and church.

Nearly 80% of domestic helpers receive and update COVID-19 information on a daily basis, while only a small percentage (7%) do not update and track COVID-19 information. And 14.4 percent only occasionally pay attention to epidemic information. Most of them (64.2%) got their information about pneumonia through social networks, some (22.6%) learned about COVID-19 through consulates, and only a small proportion (5.6%) learned about COVID-19 from the Hong Kong government. During the epidemic, the majority of domestic workers (77.5%) reported that their employers had changed their treatment, such as increasing household hygiene requirements and doing more cleaning and disinfection work, making work more cumbersome. Only a small minority (22.5 %) said the way they were treated by their employers had not changed. When domestic workers were unable to leave home because of the epidemic, more than half (53.1%) needed to work but were not paid, while 43.8 percent needed to work but were paid. That means 98 percent of domestic workers need to work if they can’t go out during their holidays, and they are more likely than not to be unpaid for their work. Only 3.1% of domestic workers were able to take their own holiday at their employer’s home, without having to work. Most domestic workers think that if they can limit the number of hours they work in a day, it would greatly improve their life situation, because at present, most of them work from morning to night and have no personal time. And domestic workers also believe their safety needs to be guaranteed during the epidemic, such as whether they have access to health care or a safe place for them to gather on holidays. Domestic workers also believe the government needs to strengthen regulation, such as the need for employers to fulfill contracts and to stop unfair treatment of domestic workers.

In news reports and social media, we see that many Hong Kong people blame individual domestic workers for violating social distance rules, or other practices they disagree with. However, we think that most Hong Kong people realize that the social distancing rules are hard for every family – it is hard to not meet family members, not meet friends, and maintain strict hygiene. What we hope for, is to think together how we can adjust arrangements a little bit, so that it is easier for everyone, including domestic workers who do not have their own homes, to follow the social distancing yet also live and work with more comfort – with enough rest and space.WhatsApp Image 2020-08-06 at 11.26.22 AM

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