An online campaign that raised over HK$107,000 for domestic workers handed Covid-19 fines for flouting a gathering ban has been axed after a minister claimed campaigners “may be suspected of abetting a crime.” Organisers have told HKFP that all funds will be returned to donors.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong told Commercial Radio on Saturday that his department would consult the Department of Justice to see whether legal action should be taken. “You may have good intentions, but we can’t rule out that you are maliciously obstructing our whole anti-epidemic effort. Because you are helping a big group of foreign domestic workers to congregate, to violate the gathering limit, [this] will affect the epidemic, and affect many families,” he said. “We must not be soft on this.”
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.
“Upon advice, we have decided that we should not proceed to pay the fines of the group of domestic helpers who received fixed penalties on Sunday, 13 February 2022, and have closed the fund,” the fundraiser’s organisers Helping Helpers said in a statement. “All sums collected will be returned to the original donors through the website.”
The HK$5,000 fine is higher than the minimum monthly salary for domestic workers in the city, which stands at HK$4,630.
Current social distancing rules forbid gatherings of more than two people.
A separate fundraiser for domestic workers affected by hardship during Covid-19 has raised over HK$1 million. The campaign was launched by NGO Help for Domestic Helpers.
On Friday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the authorities would have “no mercy” in cracking down on group gatherings over the weekend, urging employers to make their domestic workers stay at home.
Sundays are typically the only weekly holiday Hong Kong’s 370,000-odd foreign domestic workers have off. They must legally live with their employers, meaning thousands are often displaced on Sundays, gathering on sidewalks, overpasses and parks around the city.
Whilst domestic workers have been in the crosshairs of the authorities, the Omicron variant was first discovered in the community last December after Cathay Pacific aircrew allegedly violated quarantine rules. The virus spread further following a January tapas party attended by top government officials as cases exploded at public housing estates.
Hong Kong confirmed 6,063 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday and 7,400 preliminary positive cases. In all, there have been 274 deaths since the start of the pandemic and over 46,000 cases.
Additional reporting: Selina Cheng.