Yes to Coronavirus Measures, But They Must Be Feasible to Comply With

Yes to Coronavirus Measures, But They Must Be Feasible to Comply With – and a Responsible Manager Must Bear the Cost

A good and responsible manager makes sure that a policy for everyone’s welfare is feasible for all, not disproportionately burdensome to those most powerless to comply. This rule of good management is true for a government for its citizens and also for an employer for its workers. Hong Kong citizens understand this. That’s why they reacted so quickly to the Hong Kong government’s coronavirus measures at the end of July, like the ban on in-restaurant dining. They should be the same in demanding that Hong Kong domestic workers have sufficient time and space to rest during their working days and have a full day of rest in clean, safe and free spaces on their weekly rest days.

We share here our reflection on the government’s recent anti-COVID measures, which the government introduced and later reversed.

To reduce the chances of coronavirus infection, the government announced on 27 July that two days later there would be an all-day ban on dining in at restaurants. It was a rainy day on 29 July; but due to the ban, workers had to eat lunch boxes outdoors. The media widely photographed construction workers and cleaning workers eating in unsuitable and unhygienic locations.

The public criticized the government for its insufficient preparation for these expectable outcomes. The government’s measure not only neglected impacts on businesses but also failed to make arrangements for many workers who work far from home and have no indoor place of their own for meals.

The public outcry included churches and other organizations, including district council offices.

Many churches and others contributed to a solution by offering alternative spaces for workers to eat and rest, even if for an hour.

Only a few days after announcing its policy, the government backtracked and did two things: (1) it restored allowing on-site dining in restaurants before 6:00 p.m., and (2) it provided a modest list of government sites where workers could eat and rest.

Several conclusions are evident from this incident:

* The inadequacy of the government’s decision-making process. Presumably, with advisors, they should know how feasible their measures are and what kind of consequences could result. Yet, in this case, the deficiency of the policy’s implementation was clear.

* The importance of the media as a means to hold the government accountable.

* The role of churches and other members of civil society to fill the gaps left by the government and, at the same time, to push the government to modify its behaviour and to take responsibility for making it possible for people to follow these measures, not merely imposing the measures and letting individuals bear all of the consequences.

Yet we continue to neglect the thousands of workers who lack rest and eating time and whose inadequate rest and eating time stay invisible, uncounted and unaddressed. They have one day of rest, and yet, even this is eroded in so many ways, all the more now, when the government strongly deters people from going out and gathering. This is the life of the city’s 385,000 migrant domestic workers.

Ma On Shan footbridge on a sunny Sunday during pandemic.

Ma On Shan footbridge on a sunny Sunday during pandemic.

During this epidemic, the news revealed that construction workers and cleaners do not have a proper area for them to rest and have their lunch. Meanwhile, domestic helpers in Hong Kong have been facing the same situation for a long period of time. During their day off, most of the domestic helpers can only go to a public park and bridge to spend their weekly holidays. Some of them even just sit on the dirty floor to have their meal. They should have their right to rest and to eat with dignity, both on the days when they are working and during their holidays – the same as other hard-working workers in Hong Kong.

We hope Hong Kong citizens would show a compassionate response towards migrant domestic workers the same as they showed to other Hong Kong workers who were forced to eat lunch in different public areas, i.e., with sympathy and with recognition that there is something we can do for them. We can offer space, and we can remind the government that it must begin more long-term planning; for as long as it continues allowing as many as 11,000 domestic workers per year to immigrate to Hong Kong for work, it must ensure that they have clean, safe spaces for rest and leisure.

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