The Federation of Asian Domestic Workers’ Unions (FADWU) has expressed its concern over the effectiveness of new provisions aimed at protecting domestic workers from the dangers of high-rise window cleaning.

New contracts, due to roll out on January 1, will prohibit domestic workers from cleaning the exteriors of windows above the ground floor, unless grills are installed. Workers may only extend only their arms outside the windows when cleaning them. Windows on balconies are exempt.

domestic worker helper
Migrant domestic workers sit on the street in Central, Hong Kong during their one statutory weekly rest day. File photo: Robert Godden.

Eman Villanueva of the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body told HKFP that their concerns remain unaddressed.

“First, it will only apply to new contracts signed on or after Jan 1, 2017 and will leave unprotected the more than 347,000 MDWs [Migrant Domestic Workers” still employed under existing contracts. Secondly, the absence of any punitive clause will render this new rule largely ineffective.”

Tang Kin-wa, of the Federation of Asian Domestic Workers’ Unions (FADWU), told RTHK that without criminal liability, there may be little deterrent.

“Right now, the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance exempts the protection of domestic workers. The ordinance needs to be reviewed to make it more comprehensive,” he said, so to provide better safety and protection. Tang also told Apple Daily that the contracts only protected those signing next year, and does not protect current domestic workers.

See also: Hong Kong domestic workers march against window-cleaning after deaths

Carson Chan Ka-shun
Carson Chan Ka-shun. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Carlson Chan Ka-shun, the Commissioner for Labour at the Labour Department, also told local media on Monday that “generally, violating the contract will not result in criminal offences.”

However, also he said: “[to] the domestic worker, the most important point is that no matter what happens, if they had an accident because they were cleaning windows – as the employer needs to buy labour insurance for them – the insurance will definitely compensate them fully.”

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.