A domestic workers’ group has slammed New People’s Party lawmaker Eunice Yung for saying that there was a “hygiene” issue stemming from domestic workers gathering in public spaces on holidays.

At the Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday, Yung said that domestic workers in Hong Kong often gather in large groups in parks, on pedestrian footbridges and in other public areas.

Eunice Yung Regina Ip
Eunice Yung and Regina Ip. Photo: Citizen News.

“They sit, eat and sleep on the ground, thus affecting the daily lives of the public, the operation of shops and the environmental hygiene in public places. The problem has persisted for many years and shows a worsening trend,” Yung said.

Yung then asked Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong how many complaints the government has received on the issue and how many domestic workers have been prosecuted or warned over “illegal behaviour.”

She also asked Law whether the government had any plans to set up additional activity centres for domestic workers.

eunice yung
Eunice Yung. Photo: LegCo screenshot.

Law told the council that there were now around 380,000 domestic workers in the city and that they have “made a very important contribution to Hong Kong’s development.”

He said the government does not collect data on the number of domestic workers gathering on public places on weekends and government departments do not make special arrangements to send officers to these areas.

He added that the government could take joint action with law enforcement officers and contact domestic worker groups in order to improve the problem, as well as hand out flyers to remind domestic workers not to cook outdoors or block the sidewalks. He also said the government had no plans to set up additional activity centres, but domestic workers and groups can apply to use public facilities.

Yung told RTHK after the meeting that she was disappointed by the government’s answer.

“Rather than staying on the streets, staying on the footbridge, they have nowhere to go, so I think it’s the government’s responsibility to provide facilities or to provide places for them to stay… but not to cause nuisance to other people in Hong Kong.”

She added that the government had been relying on civil society to provide appropriate services to the workers, and it was time to change its policy.

‘Exploited and yet neglected’

Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance, condemned the lawmaker for making a “racist” statement against migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong, saying it amounted to discrimination against the workers’ class and ethnicities.

Domestic Helper Worker Maid
Photo: GovHK.

“Migrant domestic workers have been struggling to have decent spaces to have proper rest during holidays but the government ignores this issue,” she said.

Lestari said migrant domestic workers “suffer enough from long working hours, improper accommodation and low wage” and during the holidays, they “look forward to have proper rest and connection with our community with very low budget.”

Because of their low budget, they can only gather in public spaces, especially locations offering protection from harsh weather such as sunlight or rain, she said.

“But we received many complaints where migrant domestic workers are being prevented and intimidated by the securities and park management. Migrant domestic workers are not allowed to sit or lay down, play music, gather in big numbers, distribute flyers for organisations, and so forth,” she said.

“We feel exploited and yet neglected by the Hong Kong government,” she added.

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

Lestari also said that domestic workers are an “integral part of Hong Kong economy and society” as they free up employers to work by caring for the children and the elderly.

“But our contribution is not appreciated and yet we are being targeted for unfair policies and treatment,” she said.

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.