CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Who are the scribes and Pharisees in the right of abode debate?


The recent judicial review for foreign domestic workers on their right of abode seems to have torn Hong Kong apart.

Newspaper columns make remarks, legislators express their views and groups rally, but the bulk of mainstream opinion has been against foreign domestic workers having the right to apply for abode.

Scare tactics have been used, warning that if the foreign domestic workers win their cases, 120,000 of them and their families would flood Hong Kong and rob local people of their right to welfare, cause housing problems and put an end to life as we know it.

Others take an analytical approach, saying that since Hong Kong has the right to determine its own population policy and foreign domestic workers come to Hong Kong under a special arrangement, they should therefore have neither a right to residency or even to apply in a legal manner.

Still others warn that since some of the migrant workers are highly educated, they would compete for a whole range of jobs with locals, thereby affecting the job opportunities of less well-educated local people.

At the same time, if they were to be allowed to stay in Hong Kong, they would enjoy the same rights to welfare as Hong Kong people and this would create a huge burden on the economy.

While across the board, these opinions do defend the rights and benefits of the seven million people in Hong Kong, they also imply that foreign domestic workers, as a minority group and alien people, do not deserve these rights.

The main reason they are seeking judicial reviews is because the Basic Law does allow foreigners, with a valid travel document and seven years residency under their belts, to apply to the Immigration Department for the right of abode.

However, Section 2 of the Immigration Ordinance excludes foreign domestic workers from exercising the same right. Hence, they are claiming that they are being discriminated against on the basis of their job status.

A judicial review to clarify whether the Immigration Ordinance contravenes the Basic Law is a sensible step for migrant workers to take in defence of their rights. Yet they are met with criticism and portrayed as parasites eating off our welfare system.

Because we, as people of Hong Kong, acknowledge the contribution foreign domestic workers make to the economy through their work in many family homes, which helps housewives to lessen their domestic duties and develop a career outside the home, we conclude that we never discriminate against them.

Yet, on the other hand, once we sense that a judicial review on the right of abode may eat into our benefits, our utilitarian thinking immediately urges us to look at them as second class citizens.

When they try to exercise their rights as accorded by the court, we bombard them with criticism and accusations. Where are the values of justice and fairness which we used to be so proud of?

In the bible, we read about Jesus healing the lepers, touching the heart of the Samaritan woman and forgiving the woman who is accused of adultery. These acts of Jesus call upon us to be kind to the deprived.

But, doesn’t this demonstrate to us that those at the bottom of the economic heap in society, those who are poor, despised and deprived, enjoy the same right of healing as we do?

In the gospel according to St. Luke (6:6-11), Jesus heals the person with the withered hand on the Sabbath. He asked the person to stand in the middle of the group, while at the same time saying to the scribes and the Pharisees, “I ask you, on the Sabbath, is it lawful to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?”

Jesus, on the one hand, sees through the scribes and the Pharisees and their literal observance of the letter of the law. On the other hand, he restores the respect of the person with the withered hand, who has been marginalised by society, due to his disability.

In Catholic social teaching, common good does not reflect the utilitarian idea of “the greatest good for the greatest number.” 

Pope John Paul II describes the common good in this way, ”The good of all and each individual” (SRS38-39).

This echoes Pope John XXIII’s insistence that respect for human rights is a prerequisite for the achievement of the true common good.

Foreign domestic workers leave their homeland to seek a living abroad. Most of them are afraid to fight for their rights in case they lose their jobs. Now, four domestic workers have stepped forward to seek a judicial review and we are trying to cast more burdens on them.

Is it so difficult to follow the dictum of the bible to “love thy neighbour” in the manner that Jesus witnessed to?


Teresa Mak

 When they try to exercise their rights as accorded by the court, we bombard them with criticism and accusations. Where are the values of justice and fairness which we used to be so proud of? 


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