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Hong Kong is a better place for servants

April 3, 2009 2:13pm
The widespread violation of rights of domestic helpers in the Philippines, the non-enforcement of wage laws, and the dismal living conditions of many -- that's the real outrage. But lawmakers would rather fulminate against a columnist in Hong Kong.

Chip Tsao finally apologized for saying what many in Hong Kong already believe, that the Philippines is a "nation of servants." Surely that is an exaggeration, since I know many Filipinos who are not servants. But if you lived in Hong Kong, never stepped on our shores, and have a simple mind, that is an easy conclusion to make, since over 100,000 Filipinos in Hong Kong are indeed servants, and on Sundays when tens of thousands of them gather in public parks it could seem that Pinay domestic helpers are taking over the city.

Imagine all of them wanting to strangle Tsao for his sneering remark. So his apology was in his self-interest, especially since he himself has a Pinay in his household who can easily plant red ants in his underwear. Once the outrage subsides, our incensed officialdom must know that the truth hurts. If it is Philippine government policy to encourage millions to leave and work overseas, many of them as servants, then Tsao's artless notion is what much of the rest of the world is going to think.

Despite one man's public scorn, Hong Kong is actually a better place than the Philippines for Filipino servants. It has high compliance with a minimum wage law even for foreigners, a labor tribunal that addresses complaints against employers, a legal obligation by employers to pay for medical care, and one day off a week required by law -- safeguards that are absent in their country of origin. The widespread violation of rights of domestic helpers in the Philippines, the non-enforcement of wage laws, and the dismal living conditions of many -- that's the real outrage. But lawmakers would rather fulminate against a columnist in Hong Kong.

A few notable regulations regarding the employment of foreign domestic helpers include:

Employers' requirements and obligations

- a household income of at least HK$15,000 per month for each foreign domestic helper employed;
- a levy of HK$9,600 for employing a foreign domestic helper, for the duration of a 2-year contract;
- payment of a monthly salary of no less than the minimum allowable wage set by the government.

Helpers' rights and obligations

- required to only perform the domestic duties outlined in the employment contract.
- not allowed or required to take up any other employment with any other employer during the effective period of the contract;
- required to work and live in the employer's place of residence, and to be provided with suitable living accommodation with reasonable privacy;
- entitled to one "rest day" every week, with the rest day being a continuous period of not less than 24 hours

According to an employment web site:

Aside from their monthly salary, Hong Kong domestic helpers are also entitled to a one day off every week, a food allowance of not less than HK$ 500 or US$ 65, medical and dental services, and leave pay when they are sick. They should also be given a seven-day paid vacation leave when they have already completed one year of service.


In the wake of the Tsao controversy, my friend Alan Robles circulated the Arab News clipping below, published last year before its text made the egroups rounds. It's a poignant reminder of the latent power of OFWs.