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Day of Rest or Day of Unrest for Hong Kong’s Foreign Domestic Workers?

In recent months, Hong Kong has become home to increasingly violent protests. For many Hong Kongers, staying safe is a matter of staying home- yet for foreign domestic workers (FDWs), it is not that simple. One reason for this is the legislation affecting their working conditions.

The Employment Ordinance [1] stipulates that FDWs are entitled to one rest day per week. Naturally, many choose to have this day on a weekend. On these days, FDWs gather in areas such as Causeway Bay and Admiralty to socialise. Now, doing just this may present a great risk to FDW’s personal safety. Demonstrations routinely occur on a weekend and consistently affect these areas where FDWs gather. Making use of their rest day exposes FDWs to the risks associated with violent protests.

For FDWs, it may not be as easy as just ‘going home’. The ‘Live-In’ rule, as prescribed in Hong Kong’s Standard Employment Contract [2] means that FDWs must live with their employers. This presents many FDWs with two equally unappealing choices- go outside and risk their personal safety, or spend their rest day at their employer’s residence.

The latter option may be unattractive for many FDWs for numerous reasons. One such reason is that the Standard Employment Contract asserts only that FDW’s accommodation be ‘suitable’ with ‘reasonable privacy’. The ambiguity of this statement means that many FDWs share rooms with the young children they look after or merely have a sofa to sleep on. These are not spaces in which one would want to spend their only rest day.

Further to this, staying at home may lead to them working without compensation. The Chairwoman of Gabriela HK, an organisation that supports Filipinas in Hong Kong- has said that some employers of FDWs prevent the worker from leaving the house due to ‘safety reasons’, to force such unpaid work. [3] Similarly, the chairperson of the Indonesian Migrant Worker’s Union has said that some employers are demanding extra hours from the worker, for reasons such as taking care of the children while they rally. [4] Even if the worker moves their rest day, protest schedules can be unpredictable and, importantly, rescheduling affects their ability to be with their friends and family.

In conclusion, both the live-in rule and having just one rest day contribute to the increasingly vulnerable position of FDWs. More should be done to protect them from the effects of the protests.

- Emily Palmer

  1. Employment Ordinance 1968, s 17 (1)

  2. accessed 9 November 2019

  3. Fiona Sum, ‘Hong Kong’s domestic helpers from Indonesia and the Philippines struggle through fear and pain of protest crisis’ (South China Morning Post, 4 October 2019) <> accessed 9 November 2019

  4. Betsy Joles and Jaime Chuon, ‘Domestic workers search for rights amid Hong Kong’s protests’ (Al Jazeera, October 21 2019 ) <> accessed 9 November 2019

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