A new research study published by the Hong Kong based Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) is painting a worrying picture about the living conditions of many migrant domestic workers in the special administrative region.
Hong Kong is well known as being home to thousands of migrant domestic workers from all over Asia, but the living and working conditions of this huge and vital workforce are often left out of the public eye – until now.
Mission for Migrant Workers, a registered charity supporting migrants across Asia, recently concluded new research into the living conditions of domestic workers across Hong Kong. The result is painting a worrying picture, with unsuitable accommodation arrangements, denial of privacy and deprivation of amenities still persisting.
The research called “PICTURES FROM THE INSIDE: Investigating Living Accommodation of Women Foreign Domestic Workers towards Advocacy and Action” was carried out to provide real and accurate descriptions of how migrant domestic workers live inside households for more concrete policy change recommendations.
“We believe that the issue of space and accommodations for migrant domestic workers needs to be tackled as it surely affects the prospects for harmonious and productive relationships between families and the domestic workers who live and serve them.” the organization said in a statement.
Accomodation of MDWs in Hong Kong
Key findings of the survey, which is also available on the Mission for Migrant Workers website, are divided into three sections: Accommodation, Privacy and basic and rightful amenities. They include:
- 3 out of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong either endure alternative accommodation arrangements (despite the HK Immigration Department requiring mandatory live-in arrangement ) or their designated bedroom serves other multiple functions in the household
- While more than half the MDWs in Hong Kong (57%) are provided with their own room, 33% of them also mentioned that their “own room” is also used to double as house storage area (64%), space to hang clothes (49%), room for ironing and washing (45%), computer or study room or office (3%), and a room for pets (1%).
- Of those who are not provided with their own room (43%), 1 in every 50 of them sleeps in areas such as toilets, storage rooms, stock room or warehouse, backdoor, basement, balcony, roof, computer room, study room, music room, closet, dressing room, or in a room with just a divider for her sleeping space.
Often workers try to raise these issues with their employers, but are rebuffed by arguments such as there being no space, or are too afraid to ask out of fear of being dismissed and having to return to the agency or even to their home country.
One MDW said that, “I feel I don’t have privacy because I feel uncomfortable because my employer can enter my room anytime.”
Another MDW lamented that, “If you ask me ‘Do I have my room?” I will answer ‘Yes’. But I tell you that even if I have my own room, I feel I never have privacy.”
Lack of privacy also makes women MDWs feel vulnerable, especially if they sleep in common areas such as the living room, and make their rest and sleep uncomfortable.
While they are said to have their own room, 47% of them do not have their own key to the room while one-third of employers (35%) enter their room even without their consent.
Most employers do not go through the personal belongings of MDWs, but 2 out of every 25 employers are reported as doing so without the consent of the domestic worker.
Basic and rightful amenities
The research found that around 32,000 MDWs (14%) do not have ready access to toilets while 67% do not have their own toilets.
There is prevalence of non-provision of amenities such as air conditioning or electric fans during summer (33%) or heating amenity during winter (56%).
Lack of ventilation where they sleep also poses a health hazard to 10% of MDWs.
One of every ten MDWs are also not provided with beddings as stipulated in the standard contract.
The sad conclusion of this new study is that problems regarding accommodation arrangements among MDWs – largely caused by the mandatory live-in arrangement – are still widespread. The standards set in law are not strict enough and also compare unfavorably with international human and labor standards, as well as policies of other countries and cities.
To improve the living and working conditions for domestic workers, the organization recommended for the Hong Kong government to take a number of steps:
- Define and expound “suitable accommodation” in the Standard Employment Contract by listing down guidelines on what are unsuitable accommodation arrangements for MDWs.
- Institutionalize regulatory and monitoring mechanisms wherein submitted accommodation arrangement of employers are actually realized.
- Develop complaint system for migrant workers to address issues of accommodations.
- Analyze and align Hong Kong policy according to international standards as well as other best practices around the world.
- Ratify ILO Convention No. 189 to protect domestic workers from further human rights and dignity abuses.
- Reconsider the live-in requirement and make live-out an option for MDWs and their employers depending on specific circumstances of the households.
It is an absolutely undeniable fact that workers deserve to be respected and allowed to live with dignity, and one would hope that politics can play an important role in improving conditions here. You can find more about the Mission for Migrant Workers on their website at http://www.migrants.net