An online campaign has raised over HK$78,000 for domestic workers given Covid-19 fines for flouting a gathering ban.

Last Sunday, the police handed out 17 HK$5,000 penalties for breaching the recently reinstated two-person limit on gatherings, all of which went to foreign domestic workers, police figures obtained by HKFP showed.

A police officer hands out a Covid-19 leaflet. Photo: GovHK

As social media comments poured in about wanting to donate to the domestic workers, whose monthly minimum salaries are less than the penalty issued, a group of netizens launched the fundraising campaign on Thursday in response.

“With your help and donations, we can relieve those who are regarded as the backbone of our society, from the heavy financial burden they now face,” a description for the campaign read.

A rights group, Social Justice for Migrant Workers, will coordinate the details of the domestic workers who were penalised.

Calls from the migrants’ group for better protection of migrants’ rights. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

However, the fundraiser was paused on Friday morning due to a technical issue.

HKFP has reached out to the campaign’s organisers and the Social Justice for Migrant Workers group for comment.

Domestic workers in Hong Kong have only one day off a week – typically Sunday – and with no space of their own, often gather in public places such as parks and on the streets.

The minimum monthly salary for domestic workers in the city stands at HK$4,630. The government froze wages for the second straight year last September following an annual review, citing the poor economic climate due to Covid-19.

Photo: GovHK.

Migrant workers’ rights group expressed disappointment over the freeze, explaining that domestic workers have been facing increased pressure to send money home since the pandemic started.

Pandemic fallout

Hong Kong is in the midst of its worst Covid-19 outbreak to date, with the number of infections recorded since January – when the fifth wave began – exceeding the total figure for 2020 and 2021.

The pandemic has increasingly shed light on the many challenges faced by the city’s community of domestic workers, from low wages to a policy that requires them to legally live with employers.

Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

A Filipina foreign domestic worker has been sleeping on the streets after testing positive for Covid-19. She had resigned from her previous employment over living conditions, and was denied a work visa with a new employer.

She was originally scheduled to fly back to the Philippines on Wednesday.

“I’m freezing because of the weather, [it’s] very cold,” J, who wished to remain anonymous, told HKFP. “I really don’t [know] what to do.”

J in her previous employer’s home. Photo: Supplied.

J said that she was told by the hospital to undergo home quarantine as the hospital had reached its capacity, but she did not have a place to return to.

“I think the way the Omicron wave is going, this is just the tip of the iceberg and this will be an emerging problem over the next few weeks,” said Manisha Wijesinghe, the executive director of NGO HELP for Domestic Workers.

Photo: GovHK.

Another rights group, International Migrants Alliance, said they had also received calls from migrant workers who had tested positive.

It’s not the first time that the government’s Covid-19 policies involving domestic workers have come under scrutiny. Last May, authorities ordered all domestic workers to get tested for the virus after one was found to be infected with two mutant strains, a move that prompted the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body to say the government should “get tested for racism.”

The mass testing of the city’s 370,000 domestic workers uncovered just three positive cases.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.