A number of migrants rights organization protested outside the Hong Kong immigration office on July 11, 2012 against the mandatory live-in policy which puts foreign maids in a vulnerable condition and deprives them of minimum wage protection and rights of abode in Hong Kong.
The protest is in reaction to a scandal exposed by local media regarding Purple Lee, a singer dubbed the “diva of Cantonese songs for Children,” and her outrageous treatment of her maid, who is made to sleep in a customized bed on top of a toilet bowl, in a bathroom. While a reporter visited her home for an interview, she proudly introduced her ingenious design.
The incident has generated a lot of concern about the living condition of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Hong Kong. A campaign page, “Toilet is not a place to sleep“, was quickly set up on Facebook, exposing similar cases.
The Asian Migrants Coordination Body, a regional Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) on migrants’ rights based in Hong Kong, pointed out during the protest that Purple Lee's case only reflects the tip of iceberg. Its statement explains FDWs’ vulnerable condition in Hong Kong:
Because of the mandatory live-in employment arrangement, FDWs are forced to accept whatever the employer provides them, could it be on the toilet, on top of the washing machine, in the cupboard and many others.
Mandatory live in arrangement is just one form of social exclusion against FDWs. We also have the Two Week Rule, ban on driving duties, ban on Nepali workers to go back to HK and work, the exclusion on the Statutory Minimum Wage and the imposition of Minimum Allowable Wage for foreign domestic wages.
These situations are against the International Convention on Decent Work or the C189. The very essence of the convention is to protect every workers right against any abuse and exploitation.
FDWs could live in their own apartment with employer consent before the mandatory live-in arrangement was enforced by the immigration department in 2004. Asosiasi Tenaga Kerja Indonesia di Hong Kong (Hong Kong Indonesia Domestic Worker Association) explains in their protest album in Facebook:
Many FDWs are forced to sleep under the table, with wards who are already young adults, in the laundry room or the kitchen. The right to privacy of FDWs is violated every day and the uncomfortable living arrangement adds more to the physical and mental pressures experienced by FDWs…
The mandatory live-in arrangement is one of the issues that show how FDWs are treated differently from other workers – foreign or migrants – in Hong Kong. Not only are FDWs excluded from policies that can be potentially beneficial but even worse, FDWs are subjected to policies that make true the brand for FDWs as modern-day slaves. The New Conditions of Stay, exclusion from the Statutory Minimum Wage, the arbitrary and unjust Minimum Allowable Wage, prohibition from applying for the Right of Abode and the mandatory live-in employment arrangement – truly, the policies that exclude and discriminate FDWs abound in Hong Kong.
Inmediahk.net, a citizen media website, reports from the protest scene [zh] the desperate stories told by FDWs :