Domestic workers in Hong Kong. Photo: Asia Times

Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong received higher salaries on average in the past one year due to a shortage of workers in the city. However, many workers suffered from heavier workload amid the Covid-19 epidemic.

At the end of last month, domestic workers were paid HK$5,012 (US$646.8) per month on average, up 1.35% from HK$4,945 a year earlier, said HelperChoice, an online recruitment platform for domestic workers, citing an analysis of 10,000 job ads.

The average salary was 4.7% lower than the HK$5,259 requested by domestic helpers but 8.25% higher than the HK$4,630 of the minimum wage set by the government.

For the same period, domestic workers’ salaries increased 6.3% to HK$5,533 in Wanchai, 2.2% to HK$5,373 in Southern Hong Kong Island, 8.7% to HK$5,188 in New Territories North and 1.1% to HK$5,168 in Central and Western Hong Kong Island but declined 1.4% to HK$5,027 in Sai Kung.

Workers in these five districts expected an average salary of HK$5,257, with several employers offering up to HK$10,000 per month.

Besides, domestic workers’ salaries rose 1.9% to HK$4,768 in Kwun Tong and 1.1% to HK$4,712 in Wong Tai Sin but decreased 1.7% to HK$4,736 in Shatin, 0.8% to HK$4,730 in Sham Shui Po and 0.6% to HK$4,683 in Kwai Tsing. Employers in these five areas offered an average salary of HK$4,726.

On September 29, the government announced that the minimum wage for foreign domestic workers would remain at HK$4,630 per month while the monthly food allowance will remain at not less than HK$1,121. 

It said the decision was made after carefully considering Hong Kong’s general economic and labour market conditions over the past year, as well as its near-term economic outlook, including the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. It added that the employers’ affordability and the workers’ livelihood were also taken into consideration.

It was the first time that domestic workers’ minimum wage has been frozen since 2010 when the minimum wage was HK$3,580 while the monthly food allowance was HK$750. Employers should either give workers free food or the food allowance.

Johannie Tong, a community relations officer at the Mission for Migrant Workers, said it was disappointing that the minimum wage for domestic workers was frozen for 2020/21. Tong said the minimum wage should be increased to HK$5,894 because domestic workers suffered from heavier workloads and longer working hours due to the epidemic.

However, Betty Yung, chairwoman of the Support Group for HK Employers with Foreign Domestic Helper, said the government should have cut domestic workers’ minimum wage by 5 to 10% as employers had spent more and earned less during the epidemic.

In fact, many domestic workers have been paid more than the minimum wage since 2016, according to the HelperChoice.

Law Chi-kwong, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, said the number of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong had decreased to 370,000 from 400,000 in mid-2019 as many workers could not leave their home countries due to lockdown measures this year.

Due to a shortage of workers, many Hong Kong employers had to pay more to retain their workers or hire new ones, especially when their families faced more household chores during the work-from-home and school suspension periods between February and September.

After interviewing about 500 domestic workers, HelperChoice said 31% of the domestic workers had suffered from more workload while 25% of others had longer working hours due to the Covid-19 epidemic. Besides, 15% of the workers were denied rest days.

Hong Kong Employment Agencies Association chairman Cheung Kit-man said more employers would turn to hiring those who have been in Hong Kong, instead of the new ones, as the Indonesian government announced last month that overseas employers would have to pay all the agency, visa and body-check fees for the Indonesian workers they were hiring from 2021.

Due to the new rules, Hong Kong employers had to spend HK$5,000 more on top of the current fees of HK$10,000 when hiring a domestic worker from Indonesia, Cheung said, adding that the Philippine government would probably implement similar rules.

Read: Covid-19 puts pressure on HK domestic workers

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