Friday, March 11, 2011

Helpers in Hong Kong

                   Hong Kong has an incredible amount of domestic helpers living and working here.  Around 48% of the woman are from the Philippines, about the same from Indonesia, and the rest are from Thailand and various other countries. Last year in Hong Kong there were around 285,000 helpers.  Apparently Vietnamese are not permitted to work in Hong Kong as helpers because of "security reasons", whatever that means.  In the 1970's the Philippine government instituted the export of labor to help their economy and encouraged their people to seek work outside of their own country.  Since then some of the other countries have also done this, and the majority of the people who have come as workers are woman working as domestic helpers.

To hire a helper, the family needs to have a certain income base, have living accommodation for the helper in the home, (they must live in the home)  and pay for their medical, and a wage no less than the minimum living allowance, which l think is around 3,500 HK a month.  They are not allowed to work for anyone but their employer (can't be loaned out for odd jobs to someone else), have one day off a week, 7 days annual holiday after 1 year, and sign a contract for two years. They are also paid a food allowance of $700/month if they choose to buy their own food. I believe the employer is responsible for paying for a lot of the paper work, and flights to and from the country of their origin.  If they are fired, they get two months severance pay, and have two weeks to find another job or  they must then leave Hong Kong.
File:Statue Square Filipina.jpg
Usually helpers have Sunday off and you see groups of them getting together for their day off.  Most of them speak English, and seem very friendly and will visit with you on the buses and always ask where l'm from.  Lots  say they would like to go to Canada probably because the wages would be better there and  more time off.  I was amazed when l started looking through the girls advertising for jobs as helpers, that many of the younger ones had university degrees. There seems to be a wide spectrum of education among the woman.  From University to almost no education at all. The wages in their own countries must really be bad to come here and work as a domestic.

I can't imagine leaving my children for years at a time to work in a foreign country, but that is the situation for many of them.  Some l've heard have their own helpers back home that look after their families, so if the money they make here is enough to hire their own helpers in their own country, imagine what the wages must be there.  Most of the girls send the money they make here back home to support their own families.

Of course you hear some horror stories of verbal, physical and sexual abuse by some employers, and l'm sure this happens. I don't think the accommodations are always what they should be and the woman are not always treated kindly. On the other hand l've heard of girls who steal money from their employers, laziness, and mistreatment of children, so human nature being what it is you get all kinds on both sides. I can't fathom living in someone else's home all the time and being at their beck and call 6 days a week.  You're not really part of the family but you live in their house.  It seems a little like the old feudal system. On the employers side, you do give up some privacy as another person is living in an already small area. It's a weird existence l would think, but then you hear of some who have been with the same family for  years, and more or less raised the children and have a great relationship with their employers.

Getting together in Central on the island.  I would think that it is important to get together, as l'm sure it must be lonely for them away from family.  In the church we attend there are many woman working as helpers who come.  There are church services for woman who get together at central on the island.

It is difficult here, because there is no child care like we have at home, so for mothers who want or need to work a helper is essential. I think the maternity leave here is only three months, so with no child care available, the helper is the answer.  Also a lot of Chinese families have elderly parents living with them, and they need a helper for the care of the parents.  If you work long hours at your job, as many Chinese people do, a helper is the only solution here as there is not much extra time for normal housework and child care.

It is definitely a different life style than what we are used to, although l think many people back home would enjoy the idea of a live in helper!!

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