An employer who said they prevented their domestic worker from using an air conditioner in their room has faced criticism for subjecting the worker to “inhumane treatment”. The row also prompted one district councillor to state that domestic workers need rules to govern the use of air conditioning.

Photo: Socialist Action.

In a post on a closed Facebook group, the employer said she was awoken in the middle of the night and was angered to learn that her domestic worker had turned on their air-conditioner without permission.

“She [the domestic worker] managed to handle the heat when there was a typhoon before, and whenever she turned on the air-conditioning she would always ask me first… now she is clearly just being audacious,” they said. “Originally, I was only going to let her use the air-conditioner for three months into the contract, but after tonight – tomorrow morning – I’m going to uninstall the plug socket and lock up the air-conditioner.”

See also: China may woo Hong Kong’s domestic workers amid rumours of HK$15k salary, NGO says

The post has since been removed from the group by administrators.

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

According to Hong Kong law, it is a mandatory requirement that domestic workers “live-in” with their employers. Contractual terms specify only that “suitable” accommodation should be provided.

See also: Hong Kong domestic workers made to live in bathrooms, closets, on balconies and roofs

Mission for Migrant Workers General Manager Cynthia Abdon-Tellez told HKFP that the employer’s treatment of the worker was “inhumane,” especially because the Very Hot Weather Warning had been issued continuously over the last week. She said the incident shows why the government needs to allow living-out as an option for workers.

“If they [employers] put themselves in the shoes of the domestic workers, I don’t think they could last. It is inhumane treatment, a kind of exploitation.” she said. “Live-outs should be permitted, especially in cases where employers cannot provide proper accommodation for foreign domestic workers with air-conditioning or windows, and rooms with good ventilation.”

The employer was subject to a backlash online. One Yahoo News commenter said: “Are you crazy? Does that mean you’re not going to give your domestic worker a bed and make her sleep on the floor before the 3-month mark? That you’re not going to give her food to eat and water with which to bathe until that time?” Another commenter said: “If you don’t have the money to pay for electricity, then don’t hire a domestic worker!”

‘Set house rules’

District Councillor Michael Lee, a member of the Liberal Party’s Taskforce on Foreign Helper’s Problems said on Thursday that the real problem was that the domestic worker had not asked for permission to turn on the air-conditioner, in an interview with RTHK.

“The most concern in this matter is she [the worker] did not ask her boss to tell her that she wants to switch on the air-conditioner. There should be some house rules to let her know what she can do or what she cannot do,” Lee said.

Michael Lee (in white). Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Lee also said: “They [domestic workers] come from the hot, hot countries. I don’t know whether they used to sleeping with the air-conditioning on.”

In 2014, Lee claimed that domestic workers would fall pregnant, go partying, cause traffic problems and create social issues if they were allowed to live away from their employers. He called upon the government to allow employers to sack their domestic workers without notice.

Jun Pang

Jun Pang is an independent writer and researcher. She has previously worked in NGOs advocating for refugees' and migrants' rights in Asia and Europe.