Maids face pay cut to ease Hong Kong crisis

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The Independent Online
HONG KONG'S middle classes, whose family budgets are being seriously affected by the region's economic crisis, should be allowed to cut the pay of their housemaids by 20 per cent, says a prominent councillor.

This ingenious solution to the former colony's economic plight comes from Jennifer Chow, a pro-Peking councillor. Ms Chow has written to the government suggesting that the legal minimum wage of Hong Kong's small army of Filipino, Thai, Indonesian and Sri Lankan domestic helpers should be cut.

"We need to face reality," said Mrs Chow. "The reality is that the economic downturn is a long one."

She warned that without a pay cut on the part of the servants, some families might have to contemplate the appalling prospect of life without domestic help altogether.

Her proposal has been put to the government, which says it is studying a revision of the fixed wages for foreign domestic helpers.

Their minimum wage is HK$3,860 (almost pounds 300 a month) plus board and lodging.

"We are the lowest-paid workers in Hong Kong," said Connie Regalado, the chairwoman of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong organisation, "It's already unjust."

She added: "We didn't create the crisis in Asia, so why should migrant workers carry the crisis?"

Other workers in Hong Kong are also facing pay cuts, and the government is urging local women who have hitherto shunned domestic employment to take up jobs as domestic helpers. This places the foreign workers in a difficult position.

The large number of overseas maids working in Hong Kong, estimated at about 250,000 in a total population of 6.8 million, has liberated an unusually high number of women to work full time in the professions.

If Mrs Chow's proposal is accepted, these fortunate women will be able to continue in full-time employment, while paying less for the privilege of having someone to do their housework and cooking.

Naturally, it is an offer many will not want to refuse.