‘Food allowance unbelievably low’

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Foreign domestic workers hold a protest action outside the Labour Department in Central on August 7.

SAYING their food allowance was ‘unbelievably low,’ various migrant groups in Hong Kong have formally asked the government to increase the food allowance of foreign domestic workers to $2,500.

Presenting a united front, the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB), the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU), and the Komunitas Buruh Migran (Kobumi), also asked the Labour Department during a consultation meeting on August 7 for regulated working hours and a minimum wage of $5,500.

“The food allowance for foreign domestic workers is unbelievably low…As provided by the Standard Employment Contract, if the employer pays food allowance, she or he is not obliged to provide food,” the AMCB, FADWU, Kobumi and 17 other migrant groups said in a joint statement.

“When there is no food provided, the current food allowance – HK$1,053 – is in no way going to be able to provide nutritious and sufficient food to the workers,” they added.

Calls to increase the food allowance, and to make it mandatory, are increasing among Filipino domestic workers, especially after four of them died recently apparently due to heart disease.

“We are not asking for too much. We are asking for bare minimum based on a living wage and per capita food,” said AMCB leader Eman Villanueva.

The migrant groups said HK$2,500 is the minimum amount for food required for one worker in Hong Kong based on the “government’s own study on per capita food expenditure (2014-2015).”

“A minimal food allowance of $1,053 will only send the wrong message to the public and the employers, making them mistakenly think that foreign domestic workers need less food than other people,” the migrant groups said.

“In addition, the government provides no standard nor guidelines with regards to food provision, making a lot of employers provide them only leftovers, and making the workers starve,” they added.

According to Villanueva, the Labour officials who attended the consultation meeting “appreciated” the views and concerns expressed by the migrant leaders.

“They appreciate our concern and views but they will have to balance it and they will also have to consider other factors, such as the economic indicators in Hong Kong,” he said.

“So far, we did not get any commitment with regards to our demands and the specific reforms we are advancing,” he added.

FADWU secretary Shiella Grace Estrada said Labour was expected to come out with its decision on the minimum wage and food allowance by the end of September or early October.

As of June 2018, Immigration Department data showed that there were 378,315 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, including 206,917 Filipinos and 162,257 Indonesians.

Villanueva said that they also asked the government to make clear the “criminal liability” of employers who force their foreign domestic workers to clean their windows from the outside in high-rise buildings.”

“There should be a clear accountability and criminal liability on part of employers if they force the domestic worker and also to clearly provide protection to migrant domestic workers who will refuse to clean windows,” he said.

Villanueva said they also urged the labour officials to identify the “what are (considered as) unsuitable accommodation for domestic workers, like toilets, kitchens, cupboards, hallways and living rooms.”

“As the issue of space and rising property costs in Hong Kong is worsening, so is the space being provided to migrant domestic helpers,” he said.

“We are also asking for sufficient rest hours for migrant domestic workers. Collectively, we are asking to regulate the working hours. Guarantee 11 hours of uninterrupted rest,” he added.

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