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600 FDHs rally for higher wage, food allowance

19 September 2017

Protesters march from Exchange Square in Central to the Labour Department in Sheung Wan .

By Vir B. Lumicao

Foreign domestic workers have stepped up their campaign for higher wage and food allowance, amid the annual government review of their minimum allowable wage (MAW).

More than 600 Filipino, Indonesian, Thai and Nepalese workers marched from Exchange Square in Central to the Labour Department in Sheung Wan on Sept 3 demanding a monthly minimum wage of $5,500 and food allowance of $2,500.

At present, FDWs must get no less than $4,310 a month in wages, and an extra $1,038 if they are not provided food by their employers. Workers who don’t get the food allowance often complain of not getting enough food to eat, even as they are made to work up to 18 hours a day.

Also marching with the protesters were Hong Kong human rights activists and civic group members who supported the workers’ demands and their struggle for their right to non-discrimination and non-exclusion.

“We are not asking too much. We are not asking for a very high increase in our salaries.  What we are asking for is a livable wage in Hong Kong,” said Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, spokesperson of the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body.

Balladares said a living wage would allow FDWs ‘to live as people, as human beings having fair salary increases”.

“The salary of the local people in Hong Kong should not be different from the salary that the foreign domestic helper is receiving,” she said, adding that based on the local workers’ computation, they should receive at least $12,218 as minimum wage.

She said the helpers’ $5,500 monthly pay demand had already taken into account their free accommodation and use of electricity and water.

The Hong Kong government conducts a review of the basic salary of local workers every two years, but the statutory minimum wage does not include domestic workers. Balladares decried the unfairness of conducting a separate review of helpers’ wages.

In May this year, the government raised the statutory minimum wage for local workers to $34.50 per hour from $32.50, or a $16 increase per 8-hour working day, and $433 for a 27-day working month.

In contrast, FDW salaries increased ony $96 a year on average, according to Balladares.

“We are caring for the families of Hong Kong people, we are giving our best to ease their anxieties, we are contributing to the society. But we are not receiving livable wages,” Balladares said.

The campaign will continue to reach out to legislators, key organizations, and other local workers in order to unite with them in calling on the government for wage increase.

“We don’t want the Hong Kong government to let local workers and the migrant domestic workers fight each other,” Balladares said.

Also speaking at then rally, Ma Wan-ki or Majai, the deputy secretary general of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, scoffed at the irony of Hong Kong people starving their domestic workers.

This issue was dramatized by a group of Indonesian domestic workers who marched carrying bowls of plain or sauced-topped rice in their hands.

 “It is very ironic how hundreds of people are rallying for this very basic thing, rice. Everybody has that in Hong Kong, every Chinese people, every kind of people, whoever, only domestic helpers have not enough food,” Ma said as he pledged his solidarity with the helpers’ struggle.

“It’s too basic, $5,500, how can I live on that wage, and sufficient food, it’s the minimum of minimums but still you have to fight for it,” Ma said.

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