Domestic workers

‘They don’t recognize us as humans’: foreign domestic workers lament their exclusion from the voucher system

In February, the government announced consumer vouchers worth HK$10,000 ($1,274) for each Hong Kong permanent resident or mainland newcomer aged 18 and over, which aims to alleviate part of the burden of affected Hong Kong people and businesses. by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After many society members suggested expanding the program to help more people, officials announced on Monday that those who would one day qualify for permanent residency will also be eligible for half the amount, or $5,000. HK, in vouchers.

This group includes talents, entrepreneurs and professionals coming to Hong Kong through various programs as well as overseas students.

“We believe that given the affordability, given the overarching goal of stimulating the economy, it would be good to include additional beneficiaries so that we can share the joy of spending the consumer vouchers together,” said explained Finance Secretary Paul Chan. expanded scheme.

But amid all the fanfare, there’s one glaring omission – around 400,000 foreign domestic workers in the city.

Most people entering Hong Kong for work can apply for permanent residency after residing in the city for seven years.

However, according to the Immigration Ordinance, certain workers are excluded from this opportunity to become a PR, including foreign domestic workers and contract workers under a government labor import scheme. .

Increased financial pressure

Sringatin, the president of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union, said it was unfair to exclude foreign domestic workers from the voucher system.

“Everyone is dealing with the impact of COVID-19. We [domestic workers] are also fighting COVID-19 in Hong Kong,” she said.

“Why do they exclude migrant domestic workers? Just because we are low class and low skilled? »

Sringatin file photo.

Sringatin also said inflation in the prices of food, transport and other daily necessities were increasing the burden on domestic workers, particularly because the minimum wage for foreign domestic workers had been frozen for two years.

Officials announced last September that the minimum wage for this group of workers would remain at HK$4,630 due to an economic downturn caused by the pandemic. But an allowance for workers who did not receive food from their employer would increase by HK$52 to HK$1,173.

Johannie Tong from the Mission for Migrant Workers pointed out that due to the pandemic, foreign domestic workers have had to send more money to their families back home and spend more on COVID-related expenses.

She said a survey carried out by the charity ahead of the recent surge in COVID-19 infections found that the financial strain workers were facing had increased a lot due to the pandemic, leading to mental stress. .

“Some even had to borrow money to give back to their families to fight the virus,” Tong added.

Due to the lack of social assistance from the government, domestic workers rely heavily on donations.

Tong noted that many Hong Kongers would donate their consumer vouchers – some of which were distributed in April – to charities to help domestic workers, but since these are donations, they tend not to be a stable source of financial support.

Not the first time

Jessie Wong, head of the budget and tax policy unit in the office of the financial secretary, was invited by a guest from the commercial radio program a clear day Tuesday why foreign domestic workers are excluded from the scheme.

She responded by saying that it would be good not to set limits on the groups of people who could benefit from the vouchers if they were simply looking to increase consumption.

“However, we have to find a balance because we are committed to using our finances efficiently, and we have to consider equity and voices in society, so we have to draw a line,” she said.

But many domestic workers say they are tired of being constantly excluded or targeted during the pandemic.

“This is not the first time we have been sacrificed during COVID-19. Whenever there is an outbreak, the Hong Kong government always tells foreign domestic workers to stay at home. [on our day off]“Sringatin noted.

She added that some of those workers who were not allowed out on their day off during previous waves of COVID-19 had not been compensated for it.

“This is how the Hong Kong government really treats foreign domestic workers… They don’t recognize us as humans,” she said.

“We also contribute to Hong Kong and are no different from others. We not only help families, but also society.