A domestic worker employers’ rights organisation has said that the cyberbullying experienced by an employer who said they prevented their domestic worker from using an air-conditioner was worse than the incident itself.

In a post on a closed Facebook group, the employer had said that they intended to lock the air-conditioning unit in their domestic worker’s room after discovering that they were using it without permission. The since-removed post received a backlash online as commenters criticised the employer’s “inhumane” actions.

Joan Tsui, the convener of the Support Group for HK Employers With Foreign Domestic Workers, told HKFP that the incident had been blown out of proportion. Tsui said that she knew the employer personally, and that they had simply been expressing their anger online.

See more: Domestic workers need rules to govern air-con use, claims politician as employer faces backlash over ‘inhumane treatment’

In 2014, employer groups called on the government to allow them to sack their helpers without notice. Photo: HK Helpers Campaign.

“We think the cyberbullying is actually worse than the incident. People have publicised the employer’s name, her address, her workplace… We actually think it is okay for her [the employer] to express her opinion. But she should be aware that other people will see it,” Tsui said.

Tsui said the employer did not actually turn off the air-conditioner, and may have exaggerated the situation to gain sympathy.

She added that her own domestic worker had declined having air-conditioning: “Relative to the Philippines and Indonesia, Hong Kong is quite cool. Having a fan and a well-ventilated room is often enough,” she said.

“A lot of people at Disneyland wear full-body costumes outside and are very hot. But no one would say that they are a slave,” she said. “If domestic workers are not happy with their working environment, then they have a right to choose another employer. It is a two-way relationship.”

Members of the Liberal Party’s task force. File Photo: Task Force on Foreign Helper’s Problems, via Facebook.

District Councillor Michael Lee, who is a member of the Liberal Party’s Taskforce on Foreign Helper’s Problems, told HKFP that the domestic worker should have asked about switching on the air-conditioner.

“Basically, the employer should set up house rules with the maid on the first day she comes to work,” said Lee. “Just let the maid know, in certain situations you can turn on the radio, you can use the WiFi, you can use whatever house facilities. Just let her know, then everything is based on the rules. Then no one will be unhappy.”

Legally, domestic workers must live with their employers in Hong Kong, with contracts only specifying that “suitable” accommodation should be provided. Domestic worker rights organisations often call for more stringent regulations, better accommodation and the option for workers to “live out.”

Photo: Dan Garrett.

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

Last week, Mission for Migrant Workers General Manager Cynthia Abdon-Tellez told HKFP: “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.”

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.