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Migrant workers are overworked, underfed, says study

12 April 2019

A helper fnds chance to rest. A whopping 99% of those assisted by the Mission complained of long working hours, with the majority (56%) saying they worked 11 to 16 hours a day. 


By Daisy CL Mandap

Nearly all migrant workers in Hong Kong are overworked, with nearly half working more than 16 hours a day.

This is according to the annual “Service Report” published on Apr 11 by the Mission for Migrant Workers. The result was gathered from a total of 5,188 migrant workers who sought help from the Mission in the past year, made up largely of Filipino women.

A whopping 99% of those assisted by the Mission complained of long working hours, with the majority (56%) saying they worked between 11 to 16 hours each day. The rest (43%) said they worked more than 16 hours, twice as long as office workers.

Most of them sought help over labor problems, and more than half (59%) of the cases were over termination issues.

Cynthia Abdon, general manager of the Mission, said the results showed that much work still needs to be done.

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“While it is alarming that there is a 9% increase in those who report that they work more than 16 hours a day, 8% increase in those who report that they have labour issues, let us not be disheartened. This only proves that we have much work to do,” she said.

A quarter of the respondents said they had no room of their own, but Abdon said this was already a reason for hope because it represented a 20% decline in the number of those dealing with the issue.

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“While the process of making the Hong Kong accommodation policy respectful of migrant domestic workers rights seems slow, we can at least see that at the household level, there are changes. This we can see, since the launching of the Mission’s Pictures from the Inside research two years ago. We hope that our social advocacy is helping to establish better mutual understanding and recognition of domestic workers rights and needs among well-meaning households,” Abdon said.

But she cautioned against concluding that the work conditions of migrant workers are improving.

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She cited the rise in the number of those who complained about insufficient food (28% of the respondents), those with no regular days off (15%); and the same number who did not have statutory holidays (12%) , and those whose passports were illegally taken away by employment agencies (13%).

 More alarming was the number of workers who were physically assaulted by their employers, which doubled from 5% to 10%. A big number, or 22%, also complained of ill-treatment.

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The illegal collection of fees from the workers appeared to continue as well, with the Mission recovering more than $2 million for its clients.

“All this shows how just the workers’ demands for working hours regulation, wages, and workers’ rights,” said Abdon. “The data also shows how urgent these demands are. We hope that in the near future, more meaningful and long-lasting changes will be enacted that will lead to MDWs (being) treated fairly. If the other positive results are an indication, then we have hope.”

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