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Making Hong Kong a Better Place for Foreign Domestic Helpers

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Hong Kong’s foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) face many vulnerabilities because of their “unskilled” work [1], their generally lower education and income levels, and their conditional entry into Hong Kong.

Suggestions to make Hong Kong a better city for them:

1. Greater Awareness

FDHs are easily exploited by those who understand their vulnerabilities, especially countrymen. Regularly, their passports, salary and rest days become unlawfully withheld [2], whilst employment agencies and money lenders overcharge and harass them. Having awareness of their rights in their host jurisdictions is a source of empowerment for FDHs [3], and serves to improve their bargaining power. It is equally important for employers to uphold the rights of their employees.

2. Adjustments Regarding Government Policies

The “two-week rule” requires FDHs to leave Hong Kong within two weeks of their employment contract’s termination unless they find a new employer [4]. The “live-in rule” requires FDHs to live with their employers. Both policies were implemented for immigration and labour-market control [5][6]. However, these policies end up putting pressure on FDHs to work under abusive or unfair conditions [7][8]. 

Apart from removing these policies [9], alternative solutions include Beijing ratifying the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, or introducing further laws/assistance to directly address these policies’ side-effects (e.g. unsatisfactory living conditions and abuse) without exacerbating labour, immigration and housing issues.

3. More Legal Protections

Hong Kong’s legal framework protecting FDHs is more comprehensive than other regional destinations’ [10]. Yet, further laws can protect FDWs by specifying: 

  1. what entails “suitable accommodation” for FDHs [11]

  2. how much (and what kind of) food, or food allowance should FDHs receive [12]

  3. guidelines regarding FDHs during pregnancy and post-childbirth

  4. work/rest hours for FDHs to curb over-working [13]

Even if FDHs are aware of their numerous rights, their low bargaining power and poor law-enforcement undermine the effectiveness of further laws, unless these underlying issues are addressed first.

4. Respecting Rule of Law

Hong Kong’s laws protecting FDHs may be inadequately enforced due to, amongst other reasons, the fact that the issues raised by individuals from a foreign underclass are considered less important than those issues perceived to have a greater social and economic impact. Quoting Lincoln, a law without enforcement is merely good advice.

5. Addressing Social Stigma

Improving attitudes towards FDHs in Hong Kong requires greater protections, advocacy and education on the rights and contributions of FDHs. Much of the stigma arises from FDHs not being considered as “ordinarily resident in Hong Kong”, preventing them from becoming permanent residents [14]. These matters can only be changed internally by Hongkongers. Meanwhile, we must first learn to treat everyone as any someone.


  1. Aida Manipon, ‘Reading Filipina migrant workers in Hong Kong: tracing a feminist and cultural politics of transformation’ (2004)

  2. Labour Department , Practical Guide for Employment of Foreign Domestic Helpers (2019) <> accessed 11 November 2019

  3. See for example, EmpowerU: EmpowerU, About EmpowerU (2019) <> accessed 11 November 2019

  4. The two-week rule or the New Conditions of Stay (April 1987) is a policy devised by the Governor in Council and applied by the Labour and Immigration Department “as though law”: see Melville Boase, ‘The Two Weeks Rule in the Context of the Legal Position of Foreign Domestic Helpers (FDHs)’ in Serving One Another: The Report of the Consultation on the Mission and Ministry to Filipino Migrant Workers in Hong Kong (Christian Conference of Asia, April 28-May 1, 1991, Hong Kong) 85

  5. South China Morning Post, ‘Helping Hands: The Two-Week Rule’ (30 July 2015) <> accessed 11 November 2019; The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Opening remarks by Under Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs at UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination hearing (10 August 2018) <> accessed 11 November 2019

  6. Kent Ewing, ‘High Court ruling on ‘live-in’ rule guarantees further abuse of Hong Kong’s domestic workers’ (Hong Kong Free Press, 4 March 2018) <> accessed 11 November 2019

  7. United Nations, Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Letter of Transmittal A/61/38(SUPP) (25 August 2006) <> accessed 11 November 2019

  8. Kent Ewing, ‘High Court ruling on ‘live-in’ rule guarantees further abuse of Hong Kong’s domestic workers’ (Hong Kong Free Press, 4 March 2018) <> accessed 11 November 2019

  9. Melville Boase, Keynote Speech (25 April, year not provided)

  10. South China Morning Post, ‘Canada No 1 destination for maids’ (undated) <> accessed 11 November 2019

  11. Employment Contract for a Domestic Helper Recruited from Outside Hong Kong (ID 407) cl 3 (2016) <> accessed 11 November 2019

  12. Ibid, cl 5(b)

  13. HK Helpers Campaign, ‘Enforce Maximum Working Hours’ (2019) <> accessed 11 November 2019

  14. Cap. 115, Immigration Ordinance, s 2(4); Austin Chiu and Patsy Moy,’ Foreign helpers' plea for permanent residency fails’ (South China Morning Post, 25 March 2013) <> accessed 11 November 2019

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