Domestic workers

Covid-19: seek new deal for domestic workers as Hong Kong gets back on its feet

By Manisha Wijesinghe

More than two years later, Hong Kong is still grappling with the long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. While some have thrived, others are struggling with the fallout. As the city begins to return to normal, social and economic recovery is essential for progress.

With the introduction of hybrid working arrangements, corporate employees are returning to the office. Employers were able to create a semblance of their pre-lockdown lives by establishing a routine, meeting colleagues in person and achieving a work-life separation to help with workload.

A training center for domestic workers. File photo: Robert Godden.

Families get a reprieve from being locked in cramped apartments. Children are returning to school, easing the pressure on parents – especially mothers balancing work with childcare. The elderly have resumed their daily routines, which are particularly important for their well-being

All of these developments bode well for Hong Kong and its society. But allowing this return to normal is a army estimated at over 370,000 workers.

Migrant domestic workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic even as they supported families in Hong Kong through unprecedented challenges. Forced to live and work with their employers, any positive result for Covid-19 can threaten them with isolation or even unemployment.

Photo: Help for domestic workers.

Without access to private health care, they are left at the mercy of public hospitals which rarely have the capacity to accept more patients. In addition to a lack of basic health care, they may also face homelessness. This was particularly evident during Hong Kong’s fifth wave when the cold in Hong Kong was exacerbated by relentless rain.

As Asia’s global city gets back on its feet, we hope it recognizes and appreciates the contribution of migrant domestic workers.

Six officers approach two domestic workers to remind them of the two-person group gathering limit. Photo: GovHK.

The post-Covid world will present us with an unprecedented opportunity to course-correct and create stronger and better societies. As we face the realities of an aging population and increased need for childcare, we must also come to terms with the important role that migrant domestic workers play in families in the city. It is no longer enough to see them as an afterthought in the future of Hong Kong: they must be given the same consideration as any other community.

As individuals, it is important to understand that while domestic workers are a vital part of our families and are our beloved “aunties”, they are also employees with rights and responsibilities. We must recognize that domestic worker-employer relationships are mutually beneficial and that we are equal partners in this relationship. By striving to practice open and honest communication, proactively manage expectations, and set limits, employers can ensure a good experience for both parties while preventing conflict.

Help for Domestic Workers raised approximately HK$1.25 million in less than a week. Photo: Help for domestic workers.

By supporting the physical and mental well-being of domestic workers, providing opportunities for knowledge and skills development, and identifying factors to help them balance work and other aspects of life, we can help the community to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Everyone has a role to play in this new vision: to rebuild and help create a society that protects the right to equality of domestic workers. Moving forward, emerging stronger together, from the pandemic.

Manisha Wijesinghe is Executive Director of HELP for Domestic Workers. She is a human rights lawyer with over a decade of experience in issues related to the protection of the rights of children and migrant workers.

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