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Migrants urge unity as they press for $5,894 minimum wage

15 September 2019

By The SUN
Image may contain: 3 people
The protesters say migrant workers deserve to be paid a living wage of $5,894
Vowing solidarity, about 200 Asian migrant workers and their supporters have called on the Hong Kong government to raise foreign domestic workers’ minimum pay to what they called a “living wage” of $5,894 a month.

But during their rally held ouside the Labour Department offices in Sheung Wan on Sept 18, local activist, Ma Jai, called for more, saying there should only be one minimum wage for all Hong Kong workers, including FDWs. His call elicited cheers from the crowd.

Image may contain: 7 people, including Ma Jai, people smiling, people standing and outdoor
Local supporter Ma Jai says there should only be one minimum wage for all workers in HK

Leaders of several workers groups under the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body said the government should not use the current political situation in Hong Kong as an excuse not to grant their demand for a just wage increase.

A day earlier, AMCB chair Dolores Balladares-Pelaez also called for support from fellow migrants during the “Know Your Rights” seminar held by the Domestic Workers Corner to mark its second founding anniversary.
Image may contain: 2 people, including Dolores Balladares Pelaez, people smiling, screen
Pelaez (right) receives a certificate of thanks from DWC founder Rodelia Villar

Pelaez said the call for a living wage for FDWs is a just call, considering their big contribution to Hong Kong’s economy.

She said the $5,894 minimum pay that her group is demanding is based on a study by non-government organization, Oxfam Hong Kong.
According to this study, Hong Kong workers should be paid no less than $54.7 per hour, for a minimum monthly pay of $14,322. But after taking into account that FDWs do not spend on housing and food, the minimum salary they should be getting is $5,894, based on computations.

“May butal kasi based siya sa study,” Pelaez explained.

She also said migrants should support the call for a higher wage and better working conditions because they will all benefit from whatever gains are made.
Apart from the call for a living wage, AMCB is also urging uninterrupted rest hours of at least 11 hours per day for FDWs, plus a list of accommodations deemed unsuitable that should be specified in their work contracts.

The Sunday rally was attended by a mix of Indonesian, Thai, Nepalese, Sri Lankan and Filipino helpers as well as Hong Kong supporters.

It was organized by AMCB ahead of the government’s expected announcement of a new minimum wage for migrant workers before the month ends.
AMCB chair Dolores Balladares-Pelaez  said the current minimum salary of $4,520 is “slave wage” because it barely covers the cost of inflation.

What they deserve is a living wage which will cover their basic needs and support their family back home.

“Simple lang naman ang aming demand: living wage for migrant domestic workers para mabuhay kami nang disente at maayos habang nagtatrabaho sa Hong Kong para makaagapay kami sa mataas na pamumuhay sa Hong Kong at sa aming pamilya,” Pelaez said in an interview after the protest.

Ma chimed in, “How can we survive with $4,520? Hong Kong is very wealthy, we are very wealthy, so, we think the government should take up the responsibility not only to provide better living conditions for our workers, but also to provide sufficient and affordable health care, elderly care soon.”

He said local supporters of the migrant workers in the Legislative Council will continue to press the government for an equal minimum wage of local and foreign workers.

Ma said the government’s logic of giving the migrant workers a lower minimum wage than the locals to spare employers from the extra burden is “bully logic.”

 “If the employers can’t pay such a high salary, then the government should subsidize the employers,” he said.

In the post-rally interview, Pelaez said the migrant workers are hoping that the government will consider the workers’ wage call despite being diverted by the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

She said that was the reason why her group decided to press the call for a living wage for FDWs despite the protests. “We don’t want to just sit down and wait doon sa magiging decision by the end of the month,” she said. 

But to ensure the safety of the worker-rallyists, her group decided against a march, and staged only a quick mass action.

Pelaez cited statements given by Consulate officials that the number of FDW work contracts being submitted for processing has not dropped, indicating that the demand for their services remains steady despite the ongoing turmoil.
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