Domestic workers in Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Times

Imagine you need to work overseas for two years and your employer states on the employment contract that suitable accommodation with privacy will be provided to you, but when you arrive at your workplace, you find that you will have to sleep on the kitchen floor, or in a storeroom without a door, or a closet with a sliding door, or some place where you can’t even stretch your legs.

Will you consider finding some place outside so you don’t have to suffer?

But sorry, you can’t, because you can only live in the place that is stated in the employment contract, or else you will be committing a crime, or moving out will affect the renewal of your work visa.

A commentary written by Tam Wai Pang in Kung Kao Pao, a weekly newspaper owned and published by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, urged the public to rethink the mandatory live-in rules for domestic workers in Hong Kong.

“What you do not wish for yourself, do not impose on your maid,” Tam wrote.

In February, the Hong Kong High Court rejected a legal challenge against the mandatory live-in rules for domestic workers. Judge Anderson Chow said domestic workers could choose not to come to Hong Kong to work if they feel that the live-in requirement breaches their rights, adding that they could terminate the contract at any time if they were no longer willing to comply with the terms, including the live-in requirement.

But Tam argued that many domestic workers only discovered the poor conditions of their accommodations when they arrived in Hong Kong, as the standard employment contract only said the employer would provide “suitable accommodation with reasonable privacy” without further elaboration.

According to a survey conducted by the Mission for Migrant Workers in May last year, 40% of 3,000 interviewed Filipino and Indonesian workers in Hong Kong said they did not have their own bedroom. Many of them had to share a room with other people, while some had to sleep on the living-room floor, or in the kitchen.

For some of those who had their own room, it actually also functioned as a storage room, as an office or for drying laundry. Other people could go in and out whenever they wanted.

According to the definition of forced labor by the International Labor Organization, its elements include a poor working environment and accommodations, long working hours and bodily or sexual abuse.

By those ILO standards, some domestic workers in Hong Kong are facing a forced-labor situation due to the mandatory live-in requirements, Tam said.

Tam urged the public to rethink the requirement, saying that abolishing the live-in rules did not mean all the domestic workers would move out. Instead, some may stay with their employers because they couldn’t afford the rent outside.

“Domestic workers and employers deserve freedom of choice,” the writer concluded.

Read: Legal challenge against live-in rule for domestic workers

Read: High Court rejects challenge to the live-in rule for maids

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