Migrant domestic workers joined thousands of demonstrators on Labour Day on Monday, demanding the regulation of working hours and better wages.
While they welcomed last year’s government ban on the cleaning of external windows above the ground floor of buildings, they decried the HK$4,310 minimum wage and their 12-16 hour work days.
Domestic workers are currently exempt from the city-wide hourly minimum wage and instead have their own monthly minimum wage, with few controls on the number of hours worked.
“We remain at the mercy of a non-transparent minimum allowable wage mechanism crafted by the Hong Kong government for migrant domestic workers,” said the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB), an alliance of foreign workers’ union groups.
“We work six days a week and many of us do not have sufficient time for rest or sleep.”
“In 2016 alone, more than 137 migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong died due to illnesses and accidents,” the AMCB added. “This causes alarm to us. What conditions are there in Hong Kong that contribute to these deaths?”
Local workers also joined the march from Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park to the Central Government Offices in Admiralty.
They demanded the regulation of working hours, the introduction of a universal pension scheme and the scrapping of the “offsetting mechanism” within Hong Kong’s compulsory savings scheme – calls that demonstrators have been making for several years.
The “offsetting mechanism” allows employers to offset severance pay or long service payments to employees with their Mandatory Provident Fund contributions.
The government responded on Monday that it has always sought to improve workers’ benefits and protection “at a pace commensurate with Hong Kong’s socio-economic development.”
“The statutory minimum wage has been raised to HK$34.5 per hour with effect from today [Monday],” it said in a statement. The statement did not respond to the demands of the AMCB.
Activist group Socialist Action also called for the elimination of racism during the afternoon’s march.
Organisers Confederation of Trade Unions estimated that 2,500 participated in the rally.