Domestic staff in Hong Kong are poised to win big pay rises and demand better conditions as Covid-based restrictions on incoming workers create a shortage.
Suspension of flights from the Philippines has forced between 1,400 and 2,800 domestic workers to delay their trips to Hong Kong, pushing up the costs of recruiting helpers in the territory, employment agencies say.
Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of the Technic Employment Service Center, said that disruption of Filipino workers’ travel would be felt in the coming two weeks.
Hong Kong’s employers were seriously affected by this as many of them had waited for a helper for more than a year due to a lack of labor supply.
Liu said some domestic workers who finished their contracts would become more picky and might ask for HK$6,000 per month, about 30% higher than the minimum HK$4,630.
The Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers’ Association chairperson Betty Yung said many employers had recently changed to hiring foreign domestic workers who are now in the city, instead of those in their home countries, after new virus variant infections surged in South East Asian countries.
Yung said domestic workers who had finished their contracts were in high demand with many were asking for a pay rise and a single room. In Hong Kong, about 80% of domestic workers have to live in rooms shared with elderly people or children.
Currently, there about 370,000 foreign domestic workers in the special administrative region, mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia.
After the supply of domestic workers was hit by the pandemic last year, many employers are willing to increase their wage offers. Many domestic workers are now getting HK$5,000 to HK$5,500 per month.
Cheung Kit-man, chairman of the Hong Kong Employment Agencies Association, said due to the 14-day flight suspension, many Hong Kong employers would be willing to offer an additional 10% pay rise when hiring domestic workers. Cheung added that the supply of Indonesian domestic workers was also tight with only 60-80 people arriving Hong Kong per day.
On Sunday evening, the Hong Kong government announced a ban on flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines for two weeks from Tuesday as there had been multiple imported cases carrying the N501Y mutation from these countries over the past two weeks.
Anyone who has stayed in these countries for more than two hours in the previous 21 days is also banned from flying into Hong Kong.
Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, said the 14-day ban would not be enough.
“We will have to keep this ban unless the situation there improves or unless we have devised other measures to reduce the chance of importation of these dangerous variants into Hong Kong,” said Leung.
Ho Pak-leung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said the government acted too slowly as the number of imported Covid-19 cases had been increasing for the past two to three weeks.
He urged the government to step up anti-infection measures at quarantine hotels, saying the virus could have been transmitted among guests and staff.
The government said last Saturday that a 29-year-old Indian man who had returned from Dubai to Hong Kong tested positive for the highly transmissible N501Y strain after completing 21 days of quarantine.
His case was uncovered when he was staying in the Parkes Building in Jordan. More than 80 residents of the building were quarantined.
The man, who did not show any symptom, might have caught the virus in Dubai but could have had a long incubation period, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said. He might have been infected at the airport, the hotel, or in the community.
On Sunday, the Center for Health Protection said the man’s 31-year-old girlfriend was also infected with the Covid variant and remained asymptomatic.
On Monday, the government ordered mass-testing at Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui as the infected man had been there on April 11. He also visited the Wellcome supermarket at 45-53 Austin Road on the same day.
People who went to Harbour City on the same day, as well as staff there, are required to get tested by Tuesday. A mobile testing station has been set up in the mall car park.
Health officials said the girlfriend worked at a clinic called Optimal Family Health at the Centrium, on Wyndham Street in Central. Staff and patients who had close contact with the woman at the clinic have been put under quarantine. Health officials urged anyone who had been to the building since March 29 to get tested by Tuesday.
On Monday, 11 imported cases and one local infection were recorded in Hong Kong. An 84-year-old man who lived on the eighth floor of Oi Fai House in Tuen Mun, was identified as infected. His case could be linked to two previous cases.