A domestic worker has lost a legal challenge to scrap a rule requiring that workers must live with their employers.

Since 2003, domestic workers have been 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. They have called for more stringent regulations, better accommodation and an option for workers to “live out.”

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Photo: In-Media.

The judicial review over the rule was lodged by Lubiano Nancy Almorin from the Philippines. She was represented by Senior Counsel Paul Shieh from Daly & Associates.

Shieh had earlier 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.

domestic workers
Domestic workers in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

However, Senior Government Counsel Benjamin Yu said that the requirement was not beyond the scope of the Director of Immigration’s powers and that there was wide and flexible discretion to impose different conditions of stay under the Immigration Ordinance.

He also said that domestic workers are protected by the law and employers who overwork them could face criminal charges, RTHK reported.

Judge Anderson Chow said in the judgment that the immigration director has the power to adopt administrative measures determining that a domestic worker must live with their employer. He also said that domestic workers who do not agree with the rule could choose not to work in the city.

A statement from NGO the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body on Wednesday said: “The live-in policy, one enforced by the government, creates the conditions for modern-day slavery of MDWs to exist in Hong Kong. Now with this ruling, even the High Court is complicit in maintaining the slave-like conditions of MDWs. Instead of being the downtrodden’s last resort, the High Court chose to crush the hope for a society with no abused migrant domestic workers.”

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.