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Migrant workers call extended wage freeze ‘unfair and insulting’

30 September 2021

By Vir B. Lumicao 

AMCB protested outside the Labour Department's office to call for $6,014 wage for FDWs

Hong Kong’s freezing of the monthly allowable wage of $4,630 for migrant domestic workers for the second year in a row today, Sept 30, was denounced by the workers as “unfair and insulting.”

The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, the umbrella group of MDW organizations in Hong Kong, vowed this evening to continue its fight for a living wage after the government announced that it was keeping the current wage floor.

“The wage freeze is unfair because this demand for a living wage has been our call even before the pandemic. And during the pandemic, our working hours and workload have doubled,” said Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, AMCB spokeswoman.

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The wage freeze disappointed AMCB, which has asked for the monthly wage to be raised to $6,014 and the food allowance to $2,600.

A $52 increase in the workers’ monthly food allowance to $1,172 was the only raise the government gave. But it hardly matters, as MDWs have long complained about many employers not paying the food allowance, but giving them little or no food at all.

Pelaez said despite the wage freeze that Hong Kong has implemented since last year, all 360,000 or so MDWs have been excluded from the financial assistance given by the government to various sectors.


“This government is not helping us at all,” Pelaez said.

The AMCB said the decision to keep the MAW unchanged is an insult because more and more employers are willing to pay higher wages, but the government still insists on not giving the workers more.

Pelaez has been vocal in calling for better protection for MDWs in HK

“By not giving us a living wage, it’s already insulting. We will continue to fight for a living wage,” said Pelaez, who is also chairperson of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong.


“And we will keep asserting for living wage and appeal to the employers to continue supporting MDWs. We also support the living wage demand of local workers,” she said.

Oxfam, a British charitable group, has estimated that for a 16-hour work day, the helpers’ current $4,630 MAW translates to $31.15 per hour, just 56% of its estimate of $54.70 hourly rate for a living wage.

Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, general manager of Mission for Migrant Workers, said the government should examine the wage issue very well amid the continuing Covid crisis and make the necessary adjustment next year, as the migrant workers are really overworked.

“Makita sana nila ang halaga ng serbisyo ng migrant domestic workers. Though may employers din namang nakikita na ito kaya tinataasan na nila ang sahod ng kanilang worker o yung offer sa mga bagong kontrata,” Tellez said. (They should see the value of the service that migrant domestic workers provide. Though there are employers who are already aware of this so they raise the salary of their workers or the offer in the new contracts.)

“Pero siyempre iba yung official. At yung food allowance, okay lang sa mga nasa food allowance arrangement, pero hindi gaanong mararamdaman yan dahil mas marami ang “free food,” she added.(But, of course, an official wage increase is different. And the food allowance is just OK for those with food allowance arrangement, but that won’t have not much impact because there are more workers on “free food.”)

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In its petition, AMCB also asked the government to regulate MDWs’ work hours to give them more rest. It cited a study by the Mission for Migrant Workers that showed a majority of domestic workers in Hong Kong work an average of 11-16 hours each day.

They also asked that their employment contracts be revised to indicate places where they should not be made to sleep, such as toilets, balconies, and other areas in the house where their health and privacy are put at risk.

Before the pandemic, the Labour Department had granted FDWs a meager raise of around $100 each year. But in 2003, the MAW was cut by $300, which was the same amount of the levy imposed on employers, supposedly for training local workers for domestic jobs.



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