Long working hours and the lack of a private room continue to top the list of working conditions that foreign domestic workers find difficult in Hong Kong, NGO Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) has found.

foreign domestic workers march
Photo: Adrian Lo.

In a report published on March 31, MFMW revealed that 83 per cent of those surveyed found long working hours to be a problem. 43 per cent reported having to work for more than 16 hours a day, and 56 per cent worked between 11 and 16 hours, the report said. 38 per cent also reported having to work before commencing their day off.

The second most difficult issue was the lack of private space for domestic workers, with 48 per cent saying they do not have a private room, said the report.

Optional ‘living out’ 

“Of course considering the fact that space is an acute problem in Hong Kong… we are supporting the demand of an optional live-out arrangement,” said Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, General Manager of MFMW.

“What we are saying is that provide them a private room that they can lock when they’re dressing and sleeping,” she said. “When a day’s work is over, you have a place to stay, that you can call your own, you can think about your family and you can make a call… That’s the small privacy that you can have.”

foreign domestic workers march
Foreign domestic workers (FDWs) march in solidarity ahead of International Migrants Day 2015. File photo: Adrian Lo.

Other issues reported by around a quarter to a third of domestic workers were insufficient food, illegal recruitment, and ill-treatment. Eight per cent of those surveyed reported being physically abused. More rarely, domestic workers report facing problems from sexual harassment and rape.

migrant domestic worker helper mfmw
Photo: MFMW.

“The problems in the working and living conditions of FDWs [foreign domestic workers] persist largely due to the fact that reforms have not been made to policies,” said MFMW in the report.

“There has also been no indication that FDWs are being seriously considered for inclusion in the anticipated legislation of working hours regulation,” the NGO added.

Agency malpractice prevalent

MFMW also said that agency malpractice remains prevalent. The report found that 97 per cent of foreign domestic workers were charged more than the legally-mandated fees by recruiters and there were also complaints about fraudulent loans.

“They have a rule prohibiting workers to file complaint after six months,” said Abdon-Tellez. “Once it’s past six months, then they’re no longer entertained.”

She said that there are two agencies involved with domestic workers – one from their home country and one from Hong Kong. “They’re both overcharging them.”

Hermina is a Hong Kong writer and journalist. She graduated with a degree in politics from Cambridge, and is interested in international affairs, particularly those related to China, the EU and the Middle East. She also enjoys political satire.