Coronavirus: Hong Kong employers called ‘irresponsible’ as survey reveals 50,000 domestic helpers not given masks, sanitiser

Phila Siu

Tens of thousands of domestic workers in Hong Kong have not been given any surgical masks or hand sanitiser during the coronavirus crisis, according to a survey, raising fears employers are leaving them vulnerable to infection.

But an employers’ association on Monday rejected the findings of the online poll, insisting its members were well aware of the need to protect their helpers to avoid cross-infection.

The survey of 1,127 domestic workers, conducted by the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body earlier this month, revealed 14 per cent had never received any masks or sanitiser from their bosses.

Domestic helpers are a regular weekend sight on the city’s streets but a poll has found some are being deprived of their day off. Photo: Nora Tam

“It’s dangerous and irresponsible,” said Eman Villanueva, the non-governmental organisation’s spokesman.

“No one should be left behind. All of society should foster a sense of solidarity. If we leave one sector behind, we are opening up the whole of society to the outbreak.”

With about 380,000 domestic workers in Hong Kong, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, the NGO estimated more than 50,000 had not been issued with the protective items.

For those given masks, 20 per cent said they had received fewer than one a day on average. The rest were handed at least one daily.

The survey also found that, of all respondents, a third had bought their own masks because they either received none, or not enough.

Boxes of masks are priced at HK$200 in many shops, leaving domestic workers barely able to afford them.

“The HK$200 box of masks is probably not that much for those who make a six-digit figure in income per month. But for those making less, HK$200 for a box of masks that will probably last for a month or so is too much to bear,” Villanueva said.

Six of seven new Covid-19 patients in Hong Kong had recently travelled

The monthly statutory minimum wage for a domestic worker in Hong Kong is HK$4,630 (US$596).

More than half of respondents said their workload had increased in the past month, as employers required them to do more cleaning and children stayed home because of the ongoing school closures.

Some said they were not given gloves or masks when using cleaning agents that were potentially harmful.

One in every five helpers in Hong Kong were not given a single rest day in the past month, the survey found. Under the city’s laws, they should get one day off every week.

For those who had their weekly day off and were allowed to leave the house, some were asked by their employers to return home earlier than usual.

Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, rejected the findings.

“It’s impossible. The domestic workers live with their employers and the employers do not want them to be infected,” she said.

Employers had not banned their workers from going out, she said, although some were worried they could be infected if they went out too often.

Following the lockdown of Manila over the weekend, Yung urged the Hong Kong government to send all Filipino domestic workers arriving in the city from anywhere in the Philippines to quarantine centres because of the severity of the Covid-19 situation there.

Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of the Technic Employment Service Centre, also said that employers had given their helpers masks.

She said even though Manila was in lockdown, Filipino domestic workers there who had completed their training and received immigration clearance to come to Hong Kong, could still do so.

Of the 155 confirmed coronavirus patients in Hong Kong, five were domestic helpers, three of whom had already been discharged, as of Monday night.

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