The use of online platforms by Hong Kong’s domestic helpers to send money home for Christmas has jumped, a survey found, with the ongoing anti-government protests partly seen as a reason.
More than 84 per cent of respondents used digital solutions including online bank transfers (54.3 per cent) and e-wallets (29.8 per cent), the survey of 957 helpers showed.
The number of those using remittance centres dropped drastically from 78.4 per cent in 2018 to 10.6 per cent this festive season.
Most respondents – 94.3 per cent – said they would send money home for Christmas.
Results of the survey, conducted in early December by HelperChoice, an online employment platform, were released on Monday.
HelperChoice manager Mahee Leclerc believed the months of social unrest had partly contributed to the trend.
“The current unrest has made it more difficult to travel around the city, forcing domestic workers to stay at home on their rest day,” she said. “Therefore, this democratises the use of digital solutions such as e-wallets and online banking services to make money transfers.”
Hong Kong has been rocked by protests, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill, since June. The demonstrations evolved into a wider anti-government movement, with radical protesters clashing with police as the level of violence escalated. Rail and road services have frequently been disrupted.
“Since rallies happen often on the streets of Central, where we do all our remittances, [have a] meeting place and church activities, I feel hesitant to go there on my days off to avoid being hurt by the protesters or being arrested by police for mistaken identity,” one of the surveyed domestic workers, who switched to an online platform for remittances because of the protests, told the company.
Working more than two decades in Hong Kong, Eman Villanueva, vice-chairman of the Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union, switched to a digital wallet for sending remittances about a year ago.
“I think convenience is the most important thing for migrant workers to consider when choosing remittance methods. Because, unlike other workers who can go to banks during lunchtime, migrant workers only have time on Sunday [on their day off],” he said.
“So I don’t think the protests are the main reason for the change, but they accelerated the trend because it was more difficult for people to go to remittance centres.”
He estimates more than half of the members of his group use e-wallets for remittances.
“A Hong Kong ID, a smartphone and an app are what you need to set up an e-wallet account,” he added. “Once approved, you can send money home immediately and your family can get it within minutes.”
Villanueva said the low transaction fees, sometimes zero, were also a factor.
“In general, it costs HK$18 to HK$28 for each transaction at a remittance centre. If you use an e-wallet, the exchange rate is similar and they charge lower or even no transaction fees as an incentive,” he said.
“Domestic helpers do not earn much. We value every single cent we can save to send home.”
Despite the convenience and savings, Villanueva expressed some concerns about using an e-wallet.
“What if the money in the e-wallet is lost? What should I do?” he said. “I’m always careful with the online platform although nothing bad has happened to me so far. I do not top up more money than I need to transfer in the wallet.”