CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 October 2018

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Lack of training and sleep deprivation haunt domestic workers in elderly care

HONG KONG (SE): Foreign domestic workers who are assigned to the care of the elderly in Hong Kong are deprived of proper resting hours and many of them do not have adequate training, reveals a recent study conducted by the Mission For Migrant Workers (MFMW). 
 
The study showed that foreign domestic workers, although assigned with the tough task of caring for the elderly, are a neglected group whose needs are to be attended to. Some respondents even complained that they were put to work non-stop for one whole day.
 
Under the title, Migrants and Elderly Care, the survey was conducted to look at the conditions, concerns, and needs of foreign domestic workers who are involved in elderly care and the findings were released during a press conference at St. John’s Cathedral, Central, on September 28. 
 
The survey interviewed 1,500 foreign domestic workers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Nepal in the first quarter of 2018. 40 per cent of respondents (616) were engaged in elderly care. Two thirds of such respondents said their wards required additional assistance, as they had to depend on walking equipment while others were wheelchair-bound or bedridden.
 
Respondents said they were required to provide a wide range of care and assistance to the elderly people, such as deciding meals with nutrition and feeding them; maintaining the personal hygiene of the wards by helping them take a bath, change clothes and use the toilet; bringing their ward to social activities and ensuring their safety. They were also responsible for taking the old people to medical appointments, giving medication and dressing wounds.
 
Although the above duties require certain professional skills, it was found that less than half of the respondents had received some training and most of the training is informal and may not be related to the needs of their wards.
 
An overwhelming majority (90 per cent) of the 616 workers said they needed to do other household chores besides taking care of the elderly. The research found that the heavy workload seriously affect the rest days and sleeping habits of the workers. Two out of five foreign domestic workers who take care of the elderly people said they could not have complete day offs, while one in every ten of them said they did not have a weekly day off at all. 
 
On the other hand, 171 of the 616 respondents said the constant care the wards needed disturbed their sleep as they were often awaken during the night to perform some additional duties. Among the 171 respondents, 19 per cent said they did not sleep at all for 24 hours. 
 
Moreover, 115 respondents said their meal breaks were affected by the heavy workload. Many of them sometimes went without meals for the whole day, resulting in physical and mental health issues such as body pains, headache and depression.
 
Johannie Tong Hiu-yan, lead researcher, reported that workers encountered difficulties resulting from the lack of information and proper training.  She said, in many cases, the employers fail to inform the domestic workers about the illness of the elderly person and hence, the workers do not know what care he or she needs and what the workers should pay attention to. As a result, some workers do not know what to do when the elderly person locked the door or threw things at them.
 
She also pointed out that rest and sleep deprivation is also a top concern as the lack of rest not only affect their health, but also their work in caring for the elderly.  
 
She stated that some of the tasks like helping an elderly person to stand, to go to toilet, to take a shower or to use a wheelchair require particular skills. She stressed that the lack of training, together with fatigue, can make it difficult for workers to perform some duties and is thus dangerous for both elderly wards and workers.
 
Tong stated that the government should educate and raise awareness of employers regarding the potential difficulties that can be encountered while caring for the elderly, as well as the need for effective communication. 
 
She also stressed the importance of disclosing the condition of an elderly person before employment as some employers try to hide the condition of the ward during interviews, leading to the ill-preparedness of the worker after coming to work.
 
 Above all, the group said the government should review and revise its policy on elderly care which shifts the public and social responsibility of taking care of the elderly people to private and household care which relies heavily on foreign domestic workers who are not equipped with the skills concerned. 
 
Sister Corazon Demetillo, director of the Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Filipinos, told the Sunday Examiner after the press meeting that the relationship with the elderly ward is also a problem as some foreign domestic workers find it hard to communicate with them. The reason is not only the language barriers, but also the ward’s lack of trust on foreign domestic workers out of their strong traditional family concepts and their bias against foreign domestic workers who are not family members. 
 
Rowena Barattini, welfare worker of the Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Filipinos, said most terminated workers seeking for help in the centre said they had conflicts with their employers due to the pressure of taking care of the elderly people. The difficulties came from communication problems, the temper tantrums of the elderly and the lack of related experience.
 
She advised workers to honestly tell employers during interviews if they do not have the confidence to handle an elderly ward with chronic illness so that the employers can look for another worker with suitable experience. She encouraged workers to receive training on elderly care in their country of origin before starting their job. She also believes more Cantonese courses should be made available for such workers as most elderly people prefer workers to speak Cantonese.
 
Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, legislator, said the government has put the responsibility of taking care of the chronically ill elderly people irresponsibly on foreign domestic workers and has shown little commitment. According to him, the short-termed training known as “Pilot Scheme on Training for Foreign Domestic Helpers on Elderly Care” now provided in limited districts is something legislators have fought for decades.
 
Cheung said he hopes the government can take the survey seriously and come up with free and accessible training for foreign domestic workers. He said he would recommend the government set up learning centres for foreign domestic workers in different districts so as to make it easier for them to receive quality training.
 
MFMW is an outreach programme of the St. John’s Anglican Cathedral, dedicated to deliver responsive services to Asian migrants and develop self-sustaining capacities of migrant’s organisations for mutual aid and cooperation.

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