Domestic workers in Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Times

Lawmakers in Hong Kong have proposed that the government should require medical insurance to be mandatory for migrants who do domestic work in the city.

Legislative Council member Fernando Cheung, who chairs the council’s panel on manpower, said on Tuesday that he would propose this month that the government provide medical insurance for foreign domestic workers so they can get subsidized public healthcare services, even if their work contract has been terminated, hongkongnews.com reported.

Cheung’s proposal came after a Filipino domestic worker, Baby Jane Allas, was sacked after she was diagnosed with cancer. As a terminated worker, she could no longer get subsidized public healthcare services via the Hospital Authority.

Cheung said a worker who lost his or her job could still go to public hospitals in Hong Kong but they would be treated “as foreigners or tourists” – who have to pay expensive medical fees. The cost could be around HK$4,000 (US$510) for a night to stay at a public hospital.

To ensure that foreign domestic workers get the health assistance they need, Cheung and other Hong Kong lawmakers are thinking of making medical insurance mandatory when people sign an employment contract.

A further proposal is to make it compulsory for employers to get medical insurance for their foreign domestic workers.

The two proposals have received support from many lawmakers.

Lawmaker Dr Pierre Chan Pui-yin, who represents the medical functional constituency, revealed during the meeting that this was not the only case of workers being sacked or left at hospitals once employers learned that domestic workers had been diagnosed with serious illnesses, Oriental Daily reported.

Lawmaker Peter Shiu Ka-fai said he understood that not all families could afford to pay medical fees if their domestic workers get serious illnesses, so he said the simplest way to protect both workers and employers was medical insurance for the worker.

Another lawmaker, Yiu Si-wing, said the insurance only cost a few hundred dollars for a two-year contract and should not be a heavy burden for employers. He asked for a review of the relevant laws.

Mabel Li Po-yi, a deputy commissioner for labor, did not say whether the government would review the current laws.

Li only said that the standard employment contract for foreign domestic worker requires the employer to provide free medical treatment to their worker – if the worker is ill or suffers from personal injury during the period of employment, irrespective of whether it is attributable to work.

Li said medical insurance was not mandatory for domestic workers because they had considered various situations among families.

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