Foreign domestic workers: the unsung heroes of the Hong Kong pandemic deserve our respect

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Their identity as “foreign domestic worker” is so prominent that their roles as wives, mothers, Hong Kong residents and employees are ignored.

This is the empowering message I received during a recent roundtable discussion at the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) from a foreign domestic worker, speaking about the intersectional challenges they face as workers. .

File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

As President of the EOC, I am fully aware of the stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination and harassment this entails.

Unlike most of us, whose workplace is literally their home in Hong Kong, the lines between ‘on duty’, ‘off duty’ and ‘on standby’ for foreign domestic workers are often blurred. Employers and their families are not always aware of the caregiver’s need for personal space and rest. For some of them, working hours begin as soon as they wake up and last until bedtime, with no real rest until Sunday.

Domestic workers who are mothers cannot care for their own children as normal working parents can. This can harm their emotional well-being. We also encountered cases of illegal dismissal of pregnant and sick domestic workers. A recent and appalling example is that of some household helpers being kicked out of their homes and sleeping rough after testing positive for Covid-19.

Eni Lestari, President of the International Migrant Alliance. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Foreign domestic workers face multiple challenges despite being the backbone of most families in Hong Kong. During the epidemic, without their help, many families could not cope with maintaining extra hygiene while supporting children’s homeschooling. Unfortunately, despite their contribution to us, they are often looked down upon. It is not news that they are cold, looked down upon in most aspects of life and discriminated against in public spaces or when receiving services.

I still believe that many employers of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong are aware of their obligations and have a good relationship with their helpers while fighting the virus together. However, we have to face the fact that the discrimination against them is sometimes blatant. There is certainly room for improvement in policy and regulation, an issue worth discussing in a separate article.

Another key topic raised during our round table is that of stereotypes. To address this issue, in public messaging as well as in formal education, foreign domestic workers should not just be portrayed as servants from some overseas countries, but also as residents and employees of Hong Kong. , in order to free up our workforce.

Actress Franchesca Wong in “brownface” playing the role of a Filipino domestic worker in Barrack O’Karma. Photo: TVB screenshot.

The media can play an important role by depicting them from multiple angles and avoiding accentuating racial traits. Instead of reinforcing stereotypical narratives of foreign domestic workers, they should be portrayed as individuals with diverse identities like everyone else.

Foreign domestic workers are an integral part of Hong Kong and their contributions should never be compromised. Treat them with respect, as you expect to be treated yourself.


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