Cheung Hing Mansion in Mong Kok Photo: Google Maps

Activists have urged the Hong Kong government to provide better facilities for domestic workers to stay in while they are searching for new jobs or spending their rest days amid the epidemic.

The environment of dormitories provided by employment agencies to job-seeking domestic workers was horrible, said Shek Pui-yin, an organiser with the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions.

Twenty to 30 people were staying together in a 300-square-feet (29 square meter) apartment while some apartments had no air-conditioning.

Even without the Covid-19 epidemic, it was inhuman and unhygienic to let domestic workers stay in such dormitories, Shek said. The Labor Department should regulate these facilities under the Employment Ordinance, Building Ordinance and Fire Services Ordinance, she said, adding that these overcrowded dormitories would threaten public health if many domestic workers were infected with the coronavirus there.

Shek’s comments came after a dozen Indonesian domestic workers who had stayed in boarding houses since last month tested positive.

On Friday, the Center for Health Protection said one more Indonesian domestic worker was identified as a Covid-19 patient after she stayed in a boarding house on the ninth floor of Cheung Hing Mansion in Mong Kok. The helper left her former employer on July 28 and stayed with five to six other domestic workers in the apartment.

She took the initiative to do the test on Tuesday after the Center for Health Protection announced that a 40-year-old Indonesian domestic worker who stayed in the same boarding house between July 23 and August 3 was found to be infected on Monday.

As the owner of the boarding house was not cooperative and refused to disclose more information about those who had stayed there, health officials called on police to help. The owner denied that the apartment was an unlicensed guesthouse and did not keep personal information of guests.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the center, said the apartment owner did not change his attitude even after he found out his family member was infected.

According to Hong Kong’s Labor Law, foreign domestic workers can stay in the city to search for new jobs for 14 days after their contracts expire or are terminated. Due to the epidemic in their home countries, these workers are allowed to stay longer in Hong Kong for job hunting. Some have to stay in dormitory for about HK$50 (US$6.45) to HK$80 per day.

On Sunday, an Indonesian domestic worker tested positive after staying with four other domestic workers in a boarding house operated by David Cheung Employment in Tsuen Wan. The four workers were sent to a quarantine center. On Thursday, two of the four tested positive.

Meanwhile, the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body said Friday that many domestic workers felt that they were discriminated against because they were often intercepted by police in public areas during their rest days. The group said many domestic workers felt upset because they were treated as virus spreaders.

An Indonesian domestic worker said she wanted to relax on rest days because she cooked four times a day and always worked overtime. However, she was frequently disturbed by police in a park while it was rare for local people to be treated that way. A Filipino domestic worker said she had no place to go on her rest day due to the social-distancing rules.

Domestic workers are urged by the police to maintain a social distance in Central on August 9, 2020. Photo: Hong Kong Police Force

On August 9, 30 domestic workers were fined by police from HK$2,000 to HK$5,000 each for violating social-distancing or mask-wearing rules in Central and Tseung Kwan O. A male domestic worker named John told Ming Pao he was fined for having food with friends on the street in Central. He said he might have to borrow money to pay the fine because his employer had been out of town since last year. Five domestic workers complained that police did not give any warning before fining them.

Fernando Cheung, a Labour Party lawmaker, said the government should open community halls for domestic workers on weekends due to the epidemic.

Within the 24 hours on Thursday, Hong Kong recorded 48 new Covid-19 cases, including two imported cases, 37 that were linked to previously cases and nine with no known source of transmission. 

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