Three out of five domestic workers in Hong Kong are not provided with adequate accommodation, according to a new study by Mission for Migrant Workers.

The NGO found that one in 50 domestic workers slept in areas such as toilets, storage rooms, basements, balconies, roofs, closets or sub-divided common spaces.

Living conditions of domestic workers.
Living conditions of domestic workers. Photo: Mission for migrant workers.

Whilst 57 per cent said they had their own bedroom, a third of those surveyed said their room doubled as space for storage or laundry, or was also used as an office, study or a room for pets.

The NGO blamed the government’s mandatory requirement that forces domestic workers to live with their employers, as well as vague terms in contracts which specify that only “suitable” accommodation should be provided.

One worker told Mission for Migrant Workers: “I feel I don’t have privacy because I feel uncomfortable because my employer can enter my room anytime.”

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Another said: “We agree because we need to earn money. If we disagree, of course, we’re sent to the agency or we’re sent to go back home, right? Just to agree.”

Poor conditions

Almost half of those surveyed did not have their own key to their room, whilst a third of employers were reported to have regularly entered their room.

Around 67 per cent of the respondents said they do not have their own toilet and – of those – 14 per cent do not have ready access to a toilet at all. In addition, 33 per cent did not have access to fans or air conditioning during the summer.

Norman Uy Carnay
Norman Uy Carnay. Photo: Mission for migrant workers.

Programme coordinator and researcher Norman Uy Carnay demanded that accommodation policies and conditions are brought in line with international standards.

“Alternative accommodation arrangements are unhealthy, inhumane and violate even the already insufficient standards set by Hong Kong in its Standard Employment Contract,” a press release read.

Mission for Migrant Workers
Photo: Mission for Migrant Workers.

The group urged the government to define “suitable accommodation,” as stated in contracts. It also asked the authorities to regulate and monitor accommodation arrangements, develop a complaint system and consider allowing a live-out option for employees.

The research was carried out among 3,000 foreign domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines last year.

Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.