By not overturning the rule that forces foreign domestic workers to live with their families, Hong Kong’s courts perpetuate the exploitative and abusive environment in which these women languish.
On September 21, Nancy Almorin Lubiano from the Philippines lost her appeal to overturn the rule that forces Hong Kong’s domestic workers to live in with the families that they serve. The three-judge bench at the Court of Appeal upheld a 2018 ruling handed down by the Court of First Instance which said this rule was necessary to ensure labour competitiveness.
Hong Kong’s refusal to scrap the domestic worker ‘live-in rule’ perpetuates racism and sexism https://t.co/9YiKcsmlez @sharonyamsy #HongKong @FairAgency @HELPhk @EnrichHK @PathFindersHK pic.twitter.com/JqzObfQCfw— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@hkfp) September 25, 2020
But domestic workers and labour rights activists have repeatedly argued that this rule only exposes the women to more exploitation and abuse. The judges said that there was no evidence of this but in fact, there has been plenty of testimony of how the domestic workers are continually asked to work on their mandatory rest day, especially during the pandemic. The judges said the women can always leave the homes but this was not possible during the lockdown, with high fines being levied if they were spotted by the police in public spaces.
This willful ignorance only serves to dehumanise the foreign women who were imported into the country in the 1970s in order to free up the time of local women so that they can join the workforce. There have been plenty of first-person accounts collected by groups like the Migrants Solidarity Committee that establish the hardships faced by the women due to their oppressive living situation but the court declined to consider this as evidence.
The 2018 ruling argued that the mistreatment meted out to the women was not the result of the live-in policy but because of the mentality of individual employers. But this is known not to be true; the abuse of these women has been proven to be systemic and rooted in the government’s policy to undervalue their work. Because the workers don’t have any institutional backing, employers know that they can’t really refuse to do any work that is unloaded on them. If the workers were allowed more rest time, it’s the employer who would have to do more of the housework and this is something they’d rather avoid. Research has also shown that the live-in set up also puts a lot of strain on the employers, who is ostensibly seeks to benefit. There is a lot of emotional and mental burden in sharing a home with a stranger who is performing many intimate tasks for the family and sometimes shares a personal relationship with the children and other members of the family. They are almost a part of the family but clearly not because of the enormous amount of power that is held over them.