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Govt rejects weekend lockdown for FDHs, says it could be discriminatory

13 January 2021

By Daisy CL Mandap 

Law says there are far fewer FDHs who get infected compared to the general population

Hong Kong Labour Secretary Law Chi-kwong has slammed a proposal by a pro-Beijing Legislator for a weekend lockdown on foreign domestic helpers, saying this may amount to discrimination.

Law also said there was no basis for such a proposal as the infection rate among FDHs is far lower than that for the general public.

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Elizabeth Quat, who reiterated her proposal during today’s question and answer session at the Legislative Council, said there were 465 FDHs being infected with Covid-19, out of the city’s total cases of more than 8,000.

“That’s a high percentage,” Quat said.


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But Law disagreed: “We have to consider the law and the reason as well. If we just target FDHs it may be a question of discrimination. If we talk about reasons, the infection rate o FDHS is 0.055 percent, which is lower than the 0.01 percent for the general public. So there is no good reason for that.”

He also said that it did not make sense to impose a lockdown on FDHs as this would mean forcing them to also stay in their workplace.

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It's the second time that Quat has pushed for the weekend ban in Legco

Quat, a member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, has been pushing for the weekend lockdown since just after Christmas Day, when thousands of FDHs gathered in Tamar Park for their statutory holiday break.

At today’s LegCo session, she complained that FDHs have continued to gather on the weekends, despite appeals from the government for them to spend their rest day at home.

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"The government should have a lockdown order during the weekend for this particular group, because if you ask the employers to talk to FDH to stay at home, FDHs still go out," Quat said.

She said Hong Kong is “at a critical stage fighting the epidemic” so the government should adopt her proposed regulation.


Quat also claimed that “actually, employers are willing to shift rest days or give them extra pay so that they will stay at home, but it still doesn’t work.”

A random look at FDH chat groups would, however, show that many employers simply forbid their helpers to go out, using the spread of the virus as an excuse. Complaints made with the non-government groups like the Mission for Migrant Workers show that not a few helpers have been prevented from taking a day-off for months.

Statistics from the Department of Health should also show that most of the infected FDHs got the virus from their employers' houses, with only a handful having acquired it from boarding  houses where they were forced to stay while waiting for new employment visas.

FDHs gathered in Tamar Park, as many other locals did in other public places, on Christmas day

The Mission was among the first to hit out at Quat’s suggestion, calling it  “unsympathetic, discriminatory and exploitative.”

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In a statement issued on Dec 30, the Mission said: “It is very dangerous for Quat as a lawmaker  to put forward such a proposal to ban MDWs (migrant domestic workers) on their rest days.”

The Mission said such a call would not just fan the anxieties of people in Hong Kong, but would also result in a serious infringement of domestic workers’ human rights, and their rights under the standard employment contract.

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But Quat is not alone in putting pressure on the government to focus on FDHs as part of its anti-Covid measures.

Alice Mak from the Federation of Trade Unions has urged the government to test FDHs regularly, even as they already appear to be among the most tested groups in Hong Kong.

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Law replied that the administration needs to consider the availability of resources as well as the sustainability of such a move.

 

 

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