Pressed for cash and struggling to save, a group of Filipina domestic workers have attended a seminar on financial management organised by supporters of Baby Jane Allas, a 35-year-old helper who was fired in February for having cancer.

The session was hosted on Thursday in both Tagalog and English by Lourdes “Des” Yu-Morales, a Filipina trainer from local migrant domestic worker NGO Enrich. It was co-organised by Jennifer Heathfield and Jessica Cutrera, who is housing Allas, and attended by around 46 domestic workers, many of whom were encouraged to attend by their employers.

Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Migrant domestic workers contribute HK$98.9 billion to the city’s economy, making up 3.6 per cent of the GDP, according to a report jointly presented by Enrich and Experian. Despite this, campaigners have said that they often lack the training to properly handle their finances – only 18 per cent have local bank accounts while 83 per cent are in debt, the report found.

A cycle of debt

Morales told HKFP that poor financial management often paralyses domestic workers in a cycle of debt: “Instead of having a more stable financial standing [to] go home [with] already, they have to stay, because they have to continue paying all of this debt. And so, the problem goes on and on,” she said.

In the seminar, Morales used the acronym SMART to remind helpers of tips to manage their finances: “They have to be specific with their goals, it has to be measurable, they have to know specific amounts… it should also be realistic… and they should also have a timeframe,” she said.

Lourdes “Des” Yu-Morales, trainer at local migrant domestic worker NGO Enrich. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

A common problem raised among attendees was budgeting. “Many have this attitude – it’s tomorrow’s problem,” Rowena Perez told HKFP.

Perez, who has been a domestic worker in Hong Kong for 12 years, said she finds it difficult to divide up her allowance: “It’s really difficult [to save money] because our salary is just actually enough for the basic needs of our family, our remittance and our personal allowances,” she added.

The minimum allowable wage for foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong is HK$4,520 per month, according to the Labour Department.

Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Filipina domestic worker Theresa Melecio Nemenzo told HKFP that many domestic workers struggle with financial literacy. After the session, she said she felt more confident about managing her finances: “Honestly, at first, it’s really hard to save up money. But if you do it and stick to your [plan] religiously, you can actually reach your goals,” she said.

‘Shrinking’ tumour

Allas, who attended the seminar, was diagnosed with an aggressive stage 3B adenocarcinoma that requires daily radiation treatment and eight weekly sessions of chemotherapy. She began treatment last month and her tumour has since shrunk, the 35-year-old told HKFP.

“I feel good now,” she explained. “I want to say thank you to the people who came to support me, financially and emotionally, and every time they pray for me – thanks a lot.”

Allas’ sister, Mary Ann Allas, told HKFP that her nieces are set to visit Hong Kong on Saturday: “She’s positive and full of hope knowing that lots of people around her are hoping that she will get well soon”, she said.

Jennifer Creery

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.