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Intl Women’s Day marked with call to jointly fight Covid-19 and govt inaction

09 March 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap


Indonesian rights activist Eni Lestari with a poster showing a key demand for migrant workers

Hong Kong politicians and union leaders joined foreign domestic workers in marking International Women’s Day this year with a call for solidarity in fighting the coronavirus threat amid what they call as government neglect.

The call was made at a joint press conference held on Chater Road in Central today, Mar. 8.

Among those who spoke was Carol Ng, chairperson of the HK Confederation of Trade Union, who accused the government of not acting quickly enough to close the borders with China, resulting in the rapid spread of the virus.

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“This epidemic shouldn’t have been handled this way. If the majority of the borders were closed earlier, and started the isolation earlier, the community in Hong Kong wouldn’t have to pay such a high cost,” Ng said.

She said among those hardest hit by this government neglect are the foreign domestic workers who need to do much of the cleaning up and the sterilizing, not to mention looking after the employer’s family who mostly stay at home to avoid infection.
“But what do they get (in turn)? They are being restricted from going out on Sunday, on their day off (with their employers) telling them, ‘better stay home.’

She said her group has been receiving reports of migrant workers being terminated by their employers just for insisting on taking their day off.
 
Carol Ng speaks while Shiela Tebia- Bonifacio looks on
Shiela Tebia-Bonifacio, spokesperson of Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, highlighted the many problems faced by migrant domestic workers, including being paid “slave wage,” having to work more than 16 hours a day, and not being given “humane accommodation.”

The spread of the coronavirus disease or Covid-10, has made their situation worse, said Bonifacio.
“It has highlighted the problem of migrant domestic workers with long hours and lack of proper accommodation. Much of the workload has tripled because the members of the family are all present due to the suspension of classes and employers are working from home.”

In addition, she said the migrant workers are expected to clean the house frequently and intensively, using potentially harmful cleaning agents like bleach.
But to make matters worse, she said the HK Labour Department has issued the discriminatory advisory that FDWs should consider staying at home on their rest day to prevent the spread of the virus.

Earlier, Bonifacio also led Filipino migrant organizations in marking International Women’s Day by hitting out at the Philippine government for imposing additional fees on migrant workers, most of whom are women.
 
Tebia, Wu and Ng are joined at the table by legislator Helen Wong and ex-legislator Leung Kwong-hung
She also said the Duterte government’s imposition of a travel ban to Hong Kong has left thousands of overseas Filipino workers stranded in the country, “wreaking havoc on their livelihood.”

Also expressing solidarity was Democratic Party legislator Helena Wong, who paid tribute to the migrant workers, saying that without them many Hong Kong people would not be able to go out to work.

Wong added, “We hope the government will listen to your demands and improve the working conditions as well as the working hours of migrant workers.”

Another speaker, Meilin Wu of the HK Women Workers Association, called on the government to provide more help to women who are forced to stay at home because they have to look after their children or other family members.

In a joint statement with Gabriela HK, the HKWWA also called on the government to alleviate poverty, implement a living wage for all, recognize domestic work as work, and improve the working conditions of migrants.

The day-long celebration was highlighted by various groups dancing to the “One Billion Rising” worldwide campaign to end violence against women.


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