The High Court on Tuesday began hearing a judicial review filed by a domestic worker who says the rule that workers must live with their employers is unconstitutional.

The applicant, Lubiano Nancy Almorin from the Philippines, is represented by Senior Counsel Paul Shieh as instructed by Daly & Associates. The hearing commenced on Tuesday, and is expected to last two days.

high court
Photo: In-Media.

Shieh argued that the live-in rule was unconstitutional, saying it violates both the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights. He said that the legal challenge did not intend to throw domestic workers out of their employers’ residences, but rather grant them a choice over the matter, RTHK reported.

Shieh also said that the live-in requirement is not stated on domestic workers’ visas. Rather, it is inserted into agreements between employers and domestic workers at the Immigration Department’s request, as a condition for granting the visas, he said.

Since 2003, domestic workers are required to live with their employers in Hong Kong, with contracts only specifying that “suitable” accommodation should be provided. Domestic workers’ rights organisations have said that the rule leaves workers vulnerable to abuse and call for more stringent regulations, better accommodation and the option for workers to “live out.”

domestic worker helper
File photo: Robert Godden.

Last Friday, the government announced that the minimum wage for domestic workers will be increased by 2.3 per cent from HK$4,310 to $4,410. The food allowance – for employers who do not provide free food to domestic workers – will also be increased by $16 to no less than $1,053 per month. The new level applies to all contracts signed on or after September 30.

A government spokesperson said of the pay review: “In accordance with the established practice, we have carefully considered Hong Kong’s general economic and labour market conditions over the past year, as reflected through a basket of economic indicators, including the relevant income movement and price change in this year’s review.”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.