Migrant workers’ unions in Hong Kong have warned employers against using recent instances of civil unrest to curtail labour rights.

The Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union (FMWU) said in a statement on Wednesday that some employers have capitalised on the city’s irregular protest schedule, now in its 12th week, by depriving foreign domestic workers of their statutory rest days.

domestic worker helper
File photo: Robert Godden.

“FMWU [has] received numerous complaints from Filipino migrant workers’ who were either denied… their rest days, or their rest days [were] becoming irregular and adjusted arbitrarily depending on the schedules of protest actions,” it read. “These have seriously violated the rights of migrant workers to one rest day per week. It has also severely affected the migrant workers’ ability to meet and socialise with their relatives, friends and townmates. It is also affecting the workers’ participation in their union activities and campaigns.”

Under Hong Kong law, domestic workers are entitled to a full 24-hour rest day per week. Failure to comply with this regulation may result in prosecution and, upon conviction, a fine of HK$50,000.

The union added that it recognised and respected the rights of Hongkongers to protest the government’s handling of the latest political crisis, triggered by a now-suspended extradition bill.


Meanwhile, chairperson of the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union, Sringatin, told HKFP that domestic workers find it difficult to adjust to the unpredictable protest schedule.

“Sometimes it impacts transport and not many workers understand how to check updates on traffic [disruption],” she said. “It makes us panic and worry because if they return to an employer’s home late it may impact their job.”

domestic workers migrant slavery indonesian
Photo: Dan Garrett.

Sringatin said that some domestic worker rest days are disrupted since many of the protests occur on the weekend — some around Victoria Park in Causeway Bay or Central, where workers congregate.

“Some employers notify their workers earlier or tell them not to take a holiday that day or only have a half-day holiday,” she said. “We understand that the protest action is very important for the majority of Hong Kong people, so as an organisation for migrant workers, we try to communicate with locals and get updates on the latest protest plans and routes.”

There were 386,075 migrant domestic workers living in Hong Kong by the end of 2018, according to the Census and Statistics Department.

august 18 CHRF china extradition
Photo: May James/HKFP.

A study in March found that migrant domestic workers contributed HK$98.9 billion to the city’s economy in 2018, making up 3.9 per cent of the GDP, but were largely excluded from the local economy, with only 18 per cent owning a bank account and 85 per cent in high levels of debt.

The government’s attempts to ban or restrict demonstrations in recent weeks have failed, with protesters appearing anyway, and clashes often breaking out on the frontlines with police.

The FMWU has announced it will hold a protest in front of the Labour Department in Central on September 15, urging the government to implement an HK$5,894 minimum living wage, among other calls for greater labour protections. The event was co-organised with other affiliates of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, an advocacy group.

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jennifer creery

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.