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Domestic workers kept out of minimum hours bill

03 July 2017

By Daisy CL Mandap

AMCB's Eman Villanueva addresses the Legco manpower panel hearing

Foreign domestic workers have lashed back at the Hong Kong government’s plan to exclude them from a proposed new legislation on minimum working hours, meaning they will not be entitled to mandatory overtime pay.

Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, called the proposal unfair and discriminatory.

“This proves that the government is promoting slavery in Hong Kong. We have already been excluded from the Minimum Wage Ordinance and now we are excluded again,” Villanueva said.

Under the proposal, the mandatory payment for overtime will apply only to those earning no less than $11,000 a month. Specifically excluded are those not covered by the Minimum Wage Ordinance or the Employment Ordinance, such as migrant domestic workers. The excluded workers can only expect to get extra pay if their employment contracts provide for such.

Asked about the exclusion, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung reportedly said it was because “most employers are friendly”.

The statement by the outgoing labor and manpower chief further fueled the hostility of migrant worker leaders.

Indonesian migrant worker Sring Atin said in a Facebook post: “The most ridiculous argument ever. Since when did “friendliness” become a standard for labour rights?

Now we know why modern-day slavery is alive and well in Hong Kong. Its like saying ‘F*** the international labour standards, what we all need are good employers’.

 At the Legco manpower panel hearing on June 21, the proposal met widespread disapproval from nearly all groups asked to make a presentation, including local trade unions. They said it would only legalize long working hours, and threatened a boycott.

AMCB, which was among those invited to make a presentation, said in its statement: “We believe that FDWs are workers, and as such, any labor regulation that is aimed to apply to all workers must also be made applicable to FDWs. Regulation on working hours is a needed policy on all members of the labor sector.”

AMCB, along with most migrant support organizations, have long called for regulation to ensure FDWs are given enough time to rest and sleep. Studies conducted regularly by its aligned organization, the Mission for Migrant Workers, show that FDWs work 16 hours daily on average.

AMCB said the government’s mandatory live-in policy also made it imperative to include FDWs in the legislation, as it gave employers reason to expect their maids to be at their beck and call at any time of the day.

In an effort to soften the backlash, Chief Secretary Cheung said the $11,000 monthly income threshold will be reviewed before it is implemented.

The former labour and welfare chief said there was a need to also consider employers’ ability to absorb the cost of paying for overtime work.

The Executive Council passed the proposal on June 16, with outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying being reported as saying he wants a bill ready by the middle of next year, for implementation by the end of 2020 or early 2021.

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