CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Manipulated income level means industry can pay little

HONG KONG (SE): Migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong are again disappointed at the 2.4 per cent increase in their monthly  minimum allowable wage granted by a government board that operates in a silence protected from public scrutiny.

In refusing to grant the increase from $4,210 to $5,000 as requested by the workers, the board cited the short term economic outlook for the city, as well as the balance between the needs of migrant workers and the ability of the industry to pay.

However, the ability of industry to pay is an artificial level, not set by the laws of demand and supply or supply and demand, but an arbitrary requirement of a minimum $15,000 monthly household income on behalf of the employer.

Despite steepish inflation in the city in recent years, the minimum required income for an employer has remained stagnant, keeping the ability of the industry to pay at rock bottom level and the number of families capable of fulfilling their legal obligations towards their employees low.

Dolores Balladares, from the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, said, “We are unhappy and we wonder how the government came up with these figures. This is not a living wage. It is not enough.”

However, the structure of the labour import scheme is loaded and heavily weighted against the needs of the worker, which are far from the top priorities of the government.

The scheme has two main agendas; keeping as many mothers and married women in the work force as possible and creating a low cost infrastructure for the government to fufil its obligations to the silver tsunami that is beginning to hit the city.

Cheap, imported, throwaway labour is a far cheaper option than setting up adequate infrastructure and government services to care for the needs of elderly people in the territory.

The needs of the worker run a poor third in the priority list, the sorting out of which is compounded by a widely held prejudicial attitude among Hong Kong people that they are doing Filipinos and Indonesians a favour by offering them lowly paid employment.

This becomes evident in the absence of government social support for migrants in Hong Kong, as well as in the expectation that all the skills necessary to fulfil the demands of an employer are automatically possessed by everyone who applies.

A wide variety of voluntary agencies offer skills upgrading courses and seminars for migrant workers in the areas of cooking, household duties and care of children, as well as in the often difficult one of looking after the aged.

Although these feed directly into the top priorities of the government, its support in promoting them is scant and mostly non-existent.

It continues to attract labour by feeding the myth that there is money to be made in a job that offers precious little security and strictly outlaws a career path.

As Indonesian domestic worker from Hong Kong, Eni Lestari, told the United Nations on September 19, “I quickly found that the promises of a better income and future were just fiction... Debt, exploitation and the denial of human rights are the realities of a system that promotes export and exploitation.”

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