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A Day Off on the Streets

As of March 2018, there were 380,000 migrant domestic workers (MDWs) living in Hong Kong.[1] This figure has been on an upwards trajectory since the 1970s,[2] and therefore, November 2019 is likely to be even higher. In one of the most densely populated cities in the world, where the average price of a central 1-bedroom flat is around HK$17,600/month,[3] how are all of these individuals accommodated?

The ‘solution’ to this problem is the ‘live-in’ rule. Clause 3 of the Standard Employment Contract for MDWs states that ‘The Helper shall work and reside in the Employer’s residence’.[4] Despite being the subject of noteworthy litigation claiming that this arrangement heightens the risk of abuse and over-working, this rule continues to operate.[5] MDWs also receive a mandatory rest day (a continuous 24-hour period) every 7 days.[6] Since they live and work in the same place, this begs the question: where do they go?

A stroll around Central or Causeway Bay on a Sunday will quickly provide the answer to this question since many MDWs spend their rest days on the streets of Hong Kong. While this large-scale part-time homelessness might appear shocking, particularly against the backdrop of shiny commercial skyscrapers dotted with neon luxury brands, for many MDWs this day is the highlight of their week. They gather with friends to catch up, eat together, and perform coordinated dance routines. For them, the streets are a place to recharge, express themselves and feel more at home.[7] Some MDWs even use their day off to campaign for social justice, for example, by organising events like Migrant Pride, which happened this past Sunday (pictured).

While not expressly encouraging this practice, the Hong Kong government has taken measures to accommodate the MDWs and reduce potential conflict with members of the public. For example, the MDWs are reminded to pick up their litter through multilingual signage.[8] However, the ongoing, increasingly violent protests in Hong Kong presents a new and unique challenge. Central and Causeway Bay are frequently hit by protests, which are most active on the weekends. As well as having to relocate from the streets they usually gather at, which may mean they do not receive the full 24-hours rest if they return to their employer’s house, MDWs report being affected by tear gas and stranded by public transport closures.[9] It is important to remember that the uncertainty of the protests brings uncertainty for thousands of MDWs.

- Ella Kennedy


[1] Hong Kong UPR Coalition, ‘Migrant Domestic Workers’ <> accessed 11 Nov 2019

[2] Justice Centre Hong Kong, ‘Coming Clean’ (Mar 2016) <> accessed 11 Nov 2019, 20

[3] Numbeo, ‘Cost of Living in Hong Kong’ <> accessed 11 Nov 2019

[4] Immigration Department, ‘Employment Contract for a Domestic Helper Recruited from Outside Hong Kong - English Version’ <> accessed 11 Nov 2019

[5] Lubiano Nancy Almorin v Director of Immigration HCAL 210/2016; [2018] HKCFI 331

[6] Employment Ordinance Cap 57, s 17

[7] Emma-Lee Moss, ‘'That one day is all you have': how Hong Kong's domestic workers seized Sunday’ (The Guardian 10 Mar 2017) <> accessed 11 Nov 2019

[8] JT Singh ‘Sunday in the Park Domestic workers and public space in Hong Kong’ (Cities of Migration 29 Jul 2013) <> accessed 11 Nov 2019

[9] Yan Zhao, ‘Hong Kong’s domestic workers caught up in ongoing protest clashes’ (Hong Kong Free Press 18 Oct 2019) <> accessed 11 Nov 2019

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