Society & Politics

No Standard Working Hours for Maids

 

by Jon Chan

At the crack of dawn, domestic helper Jennifer Hinalan gets up to vacuum the house when most people are still tucked in their beds. Ms Hinalan, who works up to 15 hours a day, wakes up at 6 a.m. and goes to bed at 9 p.m..

Such a schedule is common among foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong. The proposed Standard Working Hours Scheme (SWHS) though, is unlikely to offer any relief. The scheme, set to be introduced next year, will regulate working hours and overtime pay.

But domestic helpers will not be covered. According to the scheme, once a worker has completed the standard number of hours, he or she should stop working.

It also introduces overtime pay that compensates employees at a premium rate. However, the Standard Working Hours Committee has yet to include domestic helpers in its discussion or surveys, according to the committee's website.

"The Standard Working Hours Committee is further exploring the directions of a working hours policy applicable to Hong Kong," said Cathy Lui, spokeswoman for the Standard Working Hours Committee, in response to covering live-in domestic workers.

In a statement, the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions, has demanded the committee to include living domestic helpers in its deliberation for SWHS.

"The consultation document says that certain countries exclude domestic workers in their SWH regulations," the statement says. "The lack of regulation on working hours of live-in domestic workers would send the wrong message to employers that they can order their helpers to work 24-hours a day."

"The selective information by the committee suggests that domestic workers' cannot have SWH protection," statement says.

Canada includes live-in maids in their labour laws and has set the standard hours of work at eight hours per day and 40 hours per week.

If Hong Kong is to follow suit, Ms Hinalan, who works more than 10 hours a day, would receive overtime pay. But she doesn't want to see that happen because she is worried about losing her job.

"(My employer) may have to pay me a lot more, so she might not want me anymore," she said. "No job, no money." According to Immigration Department figures, there were 320,988 live-in maids working in Hong Kong in 2013.

That's 4.5 per cent of Hong Kong's population then. Sue Zhao Yaqin, who employs two maids at her home, said overtime pay should not be applied to domestic workers as they do not have to pay rent and other living expenses.

"Live-in expenses paid by employers are sufficient to compensate for (domestic workers') relatively low salary," Ms Zhao said. The current minimum monthly salary for a live-in maid is $4,210.

Ms Zhao said she will stop hiring domestic helpers if they are included in the SWHS.

Some employers though, want the scheme to cover their live-in maids, but wonder how the hours should be calculated.

"It is hard to keep track of when my maid is actually working," said employer Carol Tang Wai-fun. She said she will keep her maid even if the scheme covers doemstic helpers.

Ms Tang said although her maid works for more than 12 hours per day, she takes breaks in between and it would be impossible to calculate her working hours accurately.

"Maids and their employers would have disagreement on the number of hours worked, so disputes may arise," Ms Tang said.

The Standard Working Hours Committee will submit its report to the government in the first quarter of next year.

(Edited by Jackson Ho)

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