Foreign domestic workers contribute HK$98.9 billion to the city’s economy, making up 3.6 per cent of the GDP, according to a study released on Wednesday.

Despite this, the study also revealed that domestic workers were largely excluded from the local economy – only 18 per cent owned a bank account and 85 per cent had high levels of debt. A lack of financial knowledge and awareness of bank account regulations were identified as key barriers to accessing financial services.

hong kong one billion rising domestic workers (7) (Copy)
Photo: Adrian Lo & Lory Jean Yungco.

Hong Kong’s figures contrast with Singapore and Malaysia, where migrant domestic workers contribute HK$64.37 billion and HK$7.06 billion to the respective economies. In Singapore, 51 per cent have bank accounts whilst 34 per cent are in debt. And in Malaysia, 86 per cent own bank accounts and 65 per cent are in debt.

The report, titled The Value of Care: Key Contributions of Migrant Domestic Workers to Economic Growth and Family Well-being in Asia, is the first time the economic contribution of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong has been calculated. It was commissioned by consumer credit report company Experian and jointly presented with local NGO Enrich. The data was calculated by market research firm Frost & Sullivan according to the value domestic workers add based on the cost of their work – if paid at local rates – as well as their personal spending, and the time they free up to enable local women to join the workforce.

domestic worker maid helper
File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

According to the findings, the largest contribution domestic workers offer to the local economy is childcare – valued at HK$40 per hour at an average of 3.85 hours per day. This totals HK$184, 970.52 per year.

There were 369,651 foreign domestic workers living in Hong Kong at the end of 2017, with the number set to rise to 600,000 by 2047, according to the government.

domestic worker economy

“Domestic work is, in many ways, invisible and undervalued work that disproportionately falls on women, often migrants,” Lucinda Pike, Executive Director of Enrich, said. “We are thrilled that this research shows how the presence of domestic workers unlocks extra economic potential.”

Increased female labour force

According to the study, migrant domestic worker employment increases the number of dual-income households by enabling local women to join the workforce. Only 49 per cent of Hong Kong women aged 25 to 52, with children, would work if they did not have a domestic worker. This figure increases to 78 per cent when they do.

domestic worker economy

But critics have said that, in spite of migrant domestic worker’s contribution to the local economy, they continue to face discrimination.

“The problem is migrant domestic workers are not recognised by the Hong Kong government as part of Hong Kong workforce and Hong Kong community,” Sringatin, chairperson of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union, told HKFP. “We are treated as foreigners, low-class workers and therefore the government has been pushing for policies and practices that exclude and isolate migrant workers from the whole Hong Kong population.”

“This is what we mean by modern-day slavery practices. And it is enforced by the Hong Kong government through policies and regulations,” she told HKFP.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.