Domestic workers in Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Times

Some foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong have had heavier workloads over the past two months because they have been asked to stay home on rest days and do extra chores. 

On Wednesday, four more cases of Covid-19 infection were recorded in Hong Kong, bringing the total to 1,017, according to the Center for Health Protection. 

Dozens of those infected have been domestic workers who were either infected at their employers’ homes or during overseas trips with their employers. 

On Monday, a one-year-old baby girl was found to be infected with the coronavirus, becoming Hong Kong’s No.1,009 patient. The baby’s parents and their 32-year-old domestic worker returned to Hong Kong from the United Kingdom on April 7 after a two-month trip. The domestic worker was identified as No.993 patient on April 11. 

A 38-year-old domestic worker, Acel, told Apple Daily she was worried that she would be infected as she was working for a family of four who were home quarantined. She said her male employer and his nine-year-old daughter returned from the United Kingdom on March 22 and were ordered by the government to stay home for 14 days. She also complained about a lack of privacy as her female employer was working from home while the couple’s 12-year-old son was also staying home all day.

Since late January, many civil servants and private sector workers have been asked to work from home and children are also staying home because the schools are closed, which domestic workers say is increasing their workload.

According to a survey by the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB), one in four domestic workers said they slept less in February and March than in the preceding months. More than half of the 1,127 respondents have been given more chores to do, including cleaning, cooking, taking care of children and buying necessities. 

One-third of the respondents said they were asked to clean their employers’ apartments at least twice a day. One in five said they were not given enough protective equipment such as gloves or masks.

As the number of Covid-19 cases grew rapidly in Hong Kong last month, the government banned gatherings of more than four people in public places and urged people to stay home. A quarter of domestic workers said they were not allowed to go out on their rest day, while another quarter said they were ordered to return home earlier than usual, according to the AMCB survey.

Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of Technic Employment Service Center, said some employers asked their domestic workers to stay home on their rest day but financially compensated them. Liu said there were some cases of domestic workers being fired after insisting on going out on their rest day. 

In Hong Kong, domestic workers are entitled to a 24-hour-long rest day each week, according to the Labor Department. An employer who compels their helper to work on their rest day is in breach of the Employment Ordinance.

A Filipino domestic worker called Eva (not her real name) told Ming Pao Daily that she was fired by her employer in early February after she went to buy food. She said she was ordered by her employer, who was traveling abroad, to stay home but there was no food at home. She was called a “virus carrier” by her employer. She filed a complaint with the Labor Department.

Meanwhile, a 42-year-old Filipino domestic worker called Viann said she felt relieved after her female employer fired her on March 7. She said she had been exhausted from working from 5:30 am to 11:30 pm due to her extra workload amid the epidemic. She said she was scolded frequently and had not been allowed to go out on her weekly rest day since late January. She was fired after going out to transfer money to her daughters.

Some domestic workers said they could not go back to their home countries, which remained locked down. The Labor Department said it would help domestic workers who had lost their jobs to find new employers. 

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