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NGO urges govt to ease entry of migrant workers by helping pay for their quarantine

06 July 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

The Mission's staff and volunteers on a community outreach project
The oldest migrant support organization in Hong Kong, the Mission for Migrant Workers, has called on the government to extend help to ease the entry of migrant workers into the city amid the pandemic.

In particular, the Mission said the government should ensure that the worker is paid a salary during the two-week quarantine period, and to extend financial help to  employers who find it difficult paying for the cost of isolating their helper.

The bottomline, said the Mission in a statement issued today, Jul 7, is that the migrant worker is given free accommodation, medical support and food during the compulsory quarantine period, with their cultural and religious beliefs given due consideration.

“Providing a free quarantine facility, in the maximum, should be considered,” said the Mission in its statement.

The non-government organization decried the statement issued earlier by Labour Secretary Law Chi-kwong that the government is not inclined to help facilitate the entry of more migrant workers, as that will go against the strategy of restricting their movement.
The Mission said, “It is very disappointing that instead of addressing the reality of live-in situations faced by thousands of MDWs (migrant domestic workers), the Hong Kong government…further put the burden on MFWs and their employers in responding to the Covid-19 outbreak.”

The Mission is the latest group to call on government for help in easing the entry of foreign domestic helpers into Hong Kong.

Staff of the Mission pose with clients who just received food aid from the NGO's donors
Earlier, a group of employment agencies has urged the setting up of a centralized quarantine center for all arriving migrant workers, while lawmaker Eunice Yeung called on the government to help employers pay for the cost of hotel quarantine.

All of them said that home quarantine is not ideal for migrant workers, given the tiny living spaces in Hong Kong.
But while agreeing that home quarantine may not be suitable, Law has said that extending help by either providing a quarantine facility, or helping employers foot the cost of a hotel stay for the workers, was out of the question.

Thomas Chan, chair of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies which called for a centralized quarantine for helpers, said the government is avoiding its responsibility to ensure a safe environment for everyone in the community.

“From the public health point of view, the government should step in to help, at least to coordinate with several hotels for quarantine purposes if (there are) no suitable government facilities,” said Chan.

The high social cost of a community contagion is far lower than what the government would spend for helping employers pay for the quarantine cost for their helpers, he added.

The Maclehose Holiday Camp is one of two remaining quarantine facilities operated by the HK govt
The Mission said in its statement that it has been getting enquiries from employers seeking help with providing quarantine accommodation for their domestic helpers, as well as from the workers themselves.

Some of these workers, said the Mission, would go straight to their office from the airport and wait outside, as they had not made prior arrangement for their home quarantine.

A majority of the workers who are taken to hotels or alternative accommodations are not paid their salary, said the statement.

In one extreme case, the worker was forced by her employer to sign a letter of termination after she developed a cough while under quarantine.

These cases led the Mission to urge the government to also set up a mechanism for urgent enquiries and assistance for newly arrived workers whose employers have failed to provide them a minimum standard of care, or violated their contractual obligations.
Many of the Mission's clients are terminated workers stranded in HK because of travel restrictions
The Mission also called for a coordination between the governments of Hong Kong and the sending countries to ensure that migrant workers who are put under quarantine are given adequate help.

In addition, the NGO  said the migrant workers should be visited regularly by their consulates during the quarantine period to ensure that their needs are adequately met.

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