A Hong Kong newsmaker is chosen each month by HKFP. Click here to view previous nominees. HELP for Domestic Workers Director Holly Allan is selected as our Person of the Month for March 2017.

Activists and NGOs have criticised the term “domestic helpers,” commonly used in Hong Kong, for its connotations of subservience, suggesting a lower and unequal role for workers. Recognising the importance of language in the fight for domestic workers’ rights, one of the most reputable NGOs for domestic workers in the city re-branded itself with a new name and logo this month. With director Holly Allan at its helm, Helpers for Domestic Helpers became HELP for Domestic Workers.

Originally from Bulacan, a province near Manila, and educated in London, Allan has worked for the NGO for 15 years. The organisation has four full-time staff and over a hundred volunteers, lawyers and other professionals who have provided over 9,000 pro-bono hours to HELP in 2016, according to its website.

Allan started volunteering with the organisation in 2001 when she first came to Hong Kong, then became a manager in 2002. She said she had always been sympathetic to the situation of domestic workers, even back in the Philippines.

“So when I arrived in Hong Kong I saw there’s so many Filipinos sitting on the sidewalks on their days off, away from their families, I wanted to learn more about their situations,” Allan told HKFP.

“I thought I could be useful in this field because I speak their language and know their culture,” she said, adding that HELP welcomes workers of all nationalities.

HELP was founded in 1989 by a small group of lawyers in the congregation at St. John’s Cathedral who realised there was a need for legal assistance among a number of Filipino domestic workers in the congregation. They began offering free Sunday clinics at the cathedral and eventually it became a full-time operation.

The NGO aims to help and empower foreign domestic workers by providing them with free legal advice and assistance, along with education and advocacy. It says that it re-branded to stay current with the times and to afford its clients human dignity.

Allan said the re-branding is important when it comes to protecting and respecting the rights of domestic workers, because it cements the fact that they are employees who are entitled to the same rights as any other worker.

“It gives them that dignity, that what they do is work – it’s a job, it’s not just helping… there are regulations and there are laws that regulate the jobs that they do.”

Photo: HELP for Domestic Workers.

See also: Is ‘domestic helper’ a loaded term?

The NGO recently published a code of conduct for employers as part of its work to educate both workers and employers. The set of 10 guidelines are a minimum standard for employers to treat domestic workers fairly.

“Workers should have reasonable working hours, fair wages and the right to a full day of rest each week. Sadly, for many, this is not reality,” she said.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.