Domestic workers in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Times

Some domestic workers have reported being poorly treated during their 14-day mandatory quarantine after arriving in Hong Kong.

Since the Philippine government began allowing newly hired domestic workers to travel to the territory on June 1, it has been reported that some have been deprived of sufficient food, denied their full pay and been forced to stay in overcrowded quarantine facilities.

The Philippine Consulate General estimated that about 7,000 newly hired workers and another 4,700 workers with renewed contracts will travel to Hong Kong from the Philippines over the next three months.

The Indonesian Migrant Workers Union also said a number of Indonesian workers complained that they were not paid during the 14-day quarantine period. It said many of them chose not to demand payment from their employers because they feared they would be fired.

Media reports said some workers, who were sent to hotels by their employers, did not receive enough food. Some were forced to subsist on instant noodles and biscuits.

In a survey conducted in early June, 95% of the 3,000 participating employers said they preferred not to live with their domestic workers during their 14-day quarantine, according to Thomas Chan Tung-fung, chairman of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies. About 85% of the employers said they didn’t have a separate bathroom for their domestic workers, Chan added.

Most of the surveyed employers told the union that they were willing to pay their helpers a food allowance of HK$1,500 (US$194) to HK$2,000 on the condition that the government provides accommodation during the quarantine period, the union said.

Chan said the cost of a hotel room, ranging from HK$3,000 to HK$5,000 for two weeks, was a heavy burden for employers.

In the past, most employment agencies provided accommodation for new domestic workers during the quarantine period, but they now pass the cost on to the employers, said Joan Tsui, convenor of the Support Group for HK Employers with Domestic Foreign Helpers.

Both Tsui and Chan urged the government to set up a centralized quarantine center for domestic workers as it is a public health matter. They said the number of domestic workers arriving in the territory will increase significantly in July.

However, the Labor Department said the government would only send high-risk people to quarantine centers. It said employers should provide their workers with accommodation and food during the quarantine period.

According to the law, the minimum salary of a foreign domestic worker is HK$4,630 per month. At present, the vast majority of employers provide free food to domestic workers. However, employers may choose to pay a food allowance of not less than HK$1,121 per month in lieu.

New Covid-19 cases

On June 17, the Centre for Health Protection said it recorded eight new imported cases – six people from Pakistan and two female domestic workers from the Philippines. The two Filipinas, aged 30 and 36, were identified as infected after they arrived Hong Kong. They were sent to the Princess Margaret Hospital for treatment.  

On Monday, a total of 30 new imported cases of Covid-19 were recorded. A majority of the patients had visited Pakistan during their incubation periods. A 55-year-old man was identified as infected in the Philippines on Saturday but was still allowed to travel to Hong Kong. He did not tell health officials in Hong Kong that he was infected until his saliva sample tested positive at the AsiaWorld-Expo. He was sent to Queen Mary Hospital for treatment.

Currently, all people coming from high-risk countries, including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and South Africa, are sent to quarantine centers, while infected people from other countries are identified through testing, said David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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