Hong Kong’s 370,000 domestic helpers will not be getting a pay rise in the coming year, partly because of the economic slump caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the government has revealed.
The minimum wage of foreign domestic workers will remain at HK$4,630 (US$593) a month, while a monthly allowance, for those whose employers do not provide them with food, will stay at HK$1,121.
The decision, announced on Tuesday, however, drew criticism from both helpers and employers.
Eman Villanueva, a spokesman for the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body, argued that helpers should have had a pay rise because their workloads had increased during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The government treats us as if we are not affected by the epidemic at all,” he said, adding domestic workers had been excluded in all government relief measures but their workload had increased.
“In the past, most foreign domestic helpers only needed to prepare breakfast and dinner for their employers. But during the epidemic, children stay more at home, parents also work from home, that means more work for their helpers.
“The domestic helpers have to prepare breakfast, snacks, lunch, snacks, and dinner every day. They also have to go to the market to buy food more, and do more cleaning.”
His group had been lobbying for a wage level of about HK$5,900 a month.
But Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, argued the government should have cut salaries instead as many bosses also suffered pay cuts and some lost their jobs because of the economic downturn.
“If the government increased the pay as the maids’ union proposed, no one would benefit. Even the maids could face being made jobless because employers would give up hiring them if they could not afford them,” Yung said.
Under government rules, to hire a foreign domestic helper, the employer must have a monthly household income of at least HK$15,000 or assets of a comparable amount to support the expenses for the full two-year contract period.
In a statement on Tuesday, a government spokesman said the pay freeze decision was made after considering Hong Kong’s general economic and labour market conditions over the past year, as well as the near-term economic outlook, including the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government said it had also taken into account the affordability of employers and the livelihood of domestic workers.
“The government has decided that the levels of the [minimum allowable wage] and food allowance for [domestic helpers] should remain unchanged,” a government spokesman said.
The government reviews the pay of helpers on a yearly basis. Last year, they received a 2.4 per cent pay rise, and in 2018 the increase was 2.5 per cent.