An migrant worker advocacy group has urged the Hong Kong government to make it illegal for employers to instruct domestic workers to clean the outside of high-rise windows without grilles. It comes after a domestic worker fell to their death on Monday whilst cleaning windows at a residential apartment.
The 38-year-old Filipino was found on a podium at Manhattan Hill, a private housing estate in Lai Chi Kok and was later confirmed dead at Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po, according to local media reports. She was cleaning windows at the time, Ming Pao reported.
In a Tuesday statement, the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) said it was angered by the death: “Even after the ban [on] cleaning unsafe windows was introduced [on] 1 January 2017, such cases continue to occur… the ban is not legally binding and this is endangering the lives of many migrant domestic workers.”
Banned but not illegal
The Hong Kong government added new items into domestic workers’ standard employment contract in 2016, which came into effect the following year, prohibiting employers from ordering workers to clean the exteriors of windows above the ground floor, unless grilles are installed.
There were at least seven deaths related to domestic worker window cleaning between 2010 to 2016, Ming Pao reported .
Following the death of Rinalyn Dulluog, the Philippine consulate and advocacy groups urged the government to make changes to contracts.
AMCB said that, whilst the new contract led to fewer deaths, employers who still instruct their domestic workers to do such dangerous work still have no legal liability. “AMCB-IMA calls the Hong Kong government, not only to ban, but also to impose criminal punishment against employers who instruct their migrant domestic workers to clean unsafe windows,” it said.
Betty Yung, chairman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, said accidents could still occur, after the new contract, as workers forget the reminders and independently decide to clean windows while their employers were at work, SCMP reported.
AMCB condemned Yung’s remarks as victim-blaming, urging the government to offer support and compensation to bereaved families.
Also in a Tuesday press release, NGO Mission for Migrant Workers cited its 2022 report, which found that ten per cent of domestic workers were still being asked to complete unsafe window cleaning tasks on high floors. It urged the Labour Department to investigate cases seriously, and asked the authorities to remind domestic workers of their rights and “end victim blaming” by educating employers and the wider community.
Correction 17/5/2023: An earlier version of this article stated that the 38-year-old domestic worker was found dead. She was actually pronounced dead after being taken to hospital. Furthermore, changes to the standard employment contract for migrant domestic workers did not prohibit workers from cleaning windows above the ground floor, unless grilles are installed, but banned employers from ordering workers to clean windows above the ground floor, unless grilles are installed. We regret the errors.
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