By Manisha Wijesinghe
More than two years on, Hong Kong is still grappling with the long-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. While some have prospered, others are struggling with the fallout. As the city begins to return to normality, social and economic recovery is key to making progress.
With hybrid work arrangements in place, corporate workers have been going back to the office. Employers have been able to create a semblance of their pre-lockdown lives in terms of establishing a routine, meeting colleagues in person and achieving a work-life separation to help with the workload.
Families are getting a reprieve from being holed up in cramped apartments. Children are returning to school, easing the pressure on parents – especially mothers balancing their work with childcare. Elderly people have resumed their daily routines, which are especially important for their well-being
All these developments augur well for Hong Kong and its society. But enabling this return to normality is an estimated army of over 370,000 workers.
Migrant domestic workers have borne the brunt of the pandemic even while they supported Hong Kong families through unprecedented challenges. Required to live and work with their employers, any positive Covid-19 result can threaten them with isolation and even unemployment.
Without access to private health care, they are left at the mercy of public hospitals which seldom have the capacity to accept more patients. In addition to a lack of basic health care, they may also face homelessness. This was particularly evident during Hong Kong’s fifth wave when the cold in Hong Kong was exacerbated by incessant rain.
As Asia’s World City gets back on its feet, we hope it recognises and appreciates the contribution of migrant domestic workers.
The post-Covid world will give us an unprecedented opportunity to correct course and create stronger and better societies. As we face the realities of an ageing population and greater need for child care, we must also accept the important role played by migrant domestic workers in the city’s families. It is no longer enough to see them as an afterthought in Hong Kong’s future: they must be given the same consideration as any other community.
As individuals, it is important to understand that while domestic workers are a vital part of our families and are our beloved “aunties,” they are also employees with rights and responsibilities. We must acknowledge that domestic worker-employer relationships are mutually beneficial and that we are equal partners in this relationship. By endeavouring to practise open and honest communication, proactively manage expectations and set boundaries, employers can ensure a good experience for both sides while preventing conflict.
By supporting domestic workers’ physical and mental well-being, providing opportunities for knowledge and skills development, and identifying factors to help them balance work and other aspects of life, we can help the community recover from the impact of the pandemic.
Everyone has a role to play in this new vision: to rebuild and help create a society that safeguards domestic workers’ right to equality. Moving forward, emerging stronger together, from the pandemic.
Manisha Wijesinghe is the Executive Director of HELP for Domestic Workers. She is a human rights lawyer with over a decade of experience working on issues related to the protection of the rights of children and migrant workers.
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