A Hong Kong official has called on employers to show “kindness” to their domestic workers amid the city’s Covid-19 outbreak, two weeks after warning that a campaign raising funds to cover their gathering fines could be illegal. The fundraising campaign was closed within hours of his comments.

law chi-kwong labour secretary
Labour and welfare secretary Law Chi-kwong. Photo: GovHK.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong wrote in a Sunday blog post that there have been “a small number” of domestic workers who were fired after testing positive for Covid-19, leaving them homeless.

“These reports have prompted concern and discontent among their compatriots,” Law wrote, adding that such reports could create “diplomatic incidents.”

Since Hong Kong’s fifth wave began, headlines have emerged of domestic workers sleeping rough after becoming infected with Covid-19. Some, who had tested positive for the virus after finishing or terminating their contracts, were unable to fly home and had nowhere to go.

One domestic worker told HKFP last month that she slept in a Yau Ma Tei park for two nights after finding out she was positive with Covid-19. She was originally scheduled to return home to the Philippines after her visa was denied.

domestic workers police covid-19
Police hands out Covid-19 leaflets to a domestic worker on February 13, 2022. Photo: GovHK

Others were thrown out by their employers who feared they would infect their family, migrant workers’ rights groups have said.

Law added that he had written a letter to the Philippines consulate in Hong Kong, emphasising that the government would do their utmost to assist domestic workers. “I hope everybody can treat others as they wish to be treated. Be kind to domestic workers, see them as families and go through this pandemic together,” he wrote.

Scrapped fundraiser

Hong Kong’s worsening Covid-19 outbreak has seen daily cases in the tens of thousands in recent weeks. Health authorities reported another 31,008 infections on Sunday and 153 fatalities in the past 24 hours.

The epidemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of the city’s migrant worker community. Rights groups say authorities have unfairly targeted domestic workers on their days off when enforcing social distancing policies.

Last month, on the first Sunday that a two-person limit on gatherings was reintroduced, police handed out 17 HK$5,000 penalties for breaching the rule – all of which went to foreign domestic workers. Chief Executive Carrie Lam had vowed “no mercy” two days earlier.

The fines are higher than the current minimum wage of domestic workers, which authorities have frozen for two consecutive years citing the poor economy.

domestic worker gatherings
Six officers approach two domestic workers to remind them of the group gathering limit of two people. Photo: GovHK.

After an online fundraiser worked with NGOs to crowdfund over HK$107,000 to cover their fines, Law said the campaigners “may be suspected of abetting a crime” as they could be “maliciously obstructing” authorities’ anti-epidemic work.

The fundraiser was axed the same day, with funds returned to donors, organisers told HKFP.

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