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Wage cuts and tax levies on Foreign Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong:

We have had enough!

Featuring news on a possible HK$500 tax levy to be imposed onto the Foreign Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong. The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) and the Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers (Hong Kong) Society, two NGOs based in Hong Kong which are protesting against this possible levy imposition, put this information together.

The latest news we received is that the Hong Kong government plans to slash wages of the Foreign Domestic Helpers and levy their employers to generate additional revenues to curb the ballooning budget deficit of Hong Kong. Under their proposal, the employers will be taxed HK$9,600 (USD1,232) for a standard 2-year contract with the Foreign Domestic Helpers but the Helpers will practically pay this off via a HK$400 (USD52) monthly cut to their wages (monthly salary of HK$3,670 [US$471]). This means the Foreign Domestic Helpers would only receive HK$3270 (US$420) per month for a 16 to 18 hour job per day, six days a week, that involves cooking, cleaning, taking care of children or elderly that includes fletching the children to and from schools, buying groceries, washing etc.

Last year, it was for a 20% wage cut. Now, it is a levy. Since 1998, various measures by the Hong Kong government to force migrants to “share the burden” of the worldwide economic crisis were proposed and implemented. For the past three years, the annual wage reviews have increasingly become a dreaded event for the Foreign Domestic Helpers for it has always been about seeking ways to cut our wages and never for an increase.

When will these attacks cease?

The recent proposals to impose a levy on Foreign Domestic Helpers are unjust, exploitative and discriminatory. With their shortcomings to the people and workers, political parties within the Hong Kong government take cover in slandering the vulnerable migrants.

Through social conditioning and anti-migrant smear campaigns, the Hong Kong government and the political parties behind them hope to make the levy proposal acceptable. Taxing the Foreign Domestic Helpers is surely a quick way of easing the Hong Kong budget deficit without cost to big businesses and affluent sectors.

Migrant workers do not have too much of anything. What we receive that are aplenty are attacks to our rights, malicious depiction of our situation, unjust demonising of our sector, and deprivation of our livelihood.

They say that Foreign Domestic Helpers are getting rich.

What do they do not say is that Foreign Domestic Helpers are already one of the lowest paid workers in Hong Kong. The Minimum Allowable Wage that is way below the legally taxable income is not even enough to cover our needs in Hong Kong and that of our family’s back home. In fact, only 34% of our wages are sent to our families while the rest are spent for our financial needs in Hong Kong. If we are indeed getting rich, then how come we remain here to work as domestic helpers?

They say that the presence of migrants has caused the unemployment of local workers. Moreover, they say that we are job stealers.

What they do not say is that it is the massive layoff of workers of businesses in the telecommunications, airlines, restaurants, and other industries that is to blame for the ballooning of unemployment in Hong Kong. Even civil servants have been rendered jobless by the Hong Kong government itself.

It is a wonder that migrants who spend the major part of their income to patronise Hong Kong businesses that corner millions of dollars of profit are still the ones accused of job loss for the local workers.

Moreover, the Hong Kong government has admitted that 500,000 households in Hong Kong have needs for domestic helpers. What are the jobs then that we are stealing?

As in the past, this ploy is being used to drive a wedge between the migrants and local workers. Now, they are blatantly trying to get the confidence of the locals, especially of local domestic helpers, through the promise of subsidy and retraining from the income that the levy will generate.

Local and foreign domestics alike suffer from low wages. We shall not allow ourselves to be made as an excuse for the inadequacy of the Hong Kong government to comprehensively address the concerns of our local counterparts.

They say that we must share the burden of the hardships that Hong Kong is currently experiencing.

The self-righteous proponents of the levy have said that they themselves are prepared to contribute part of their income for economic recovery. For the peanuts that they give, they are now asking the Foreign Domestic Helpers to sacrifice a bowlful of rice for our families.

What they do not say is that Foreign Domestic Helpers have been burdened enough. For years, since the economic crisis that swept the Asia-Pacific region reached Hong Kong, migrant workers especially the Foreign Domestic Helpers have been at the receiving end of relentless assaults of the Hong Kong government to our rights and welfare. Much ado about our wages and our jobs has been raised in order to justify anti-migrant proposals and policies.

We have suffered enough and this has got to stop.

The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) demands that the levy proposals be dropped immediately. Such an unjust proposal can only come from a mind that wishes to take modern slavery to the hilt.

We demand that the Hong Kong government, for once, act on what is just and what is right. What is just is that migrant workers, as a marginalised sector, must be spared from further ordeals. What is right is for the Hong Kong government to take decisive action in protecting the rights of the local workers and seriously take its responsibility for their well being.

We call on to the local working community to be vigilant in attempts to weaken and divide our ranks. Our livelihood is a worker’s struggle.

We may not have too much of anything. What we have is the unity and will to carry on the fight for our rights and for the survival of our families.

Facts on the Foreign Domestic Helpers’
wages, expenditure and remittances

FDH Remittance Insufficient to Meet Family Needs

How much is HK$3,670 (US$471)? Contrary to the rosy picture that some political parties in Hong Kong paint about the life of migrant workers, reality has proven otherwise.

In response to the threat of imposing a tax in the form of levy to Foreign Domestic Helpers (FDH) in Hong Kong, the Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers (MFMW), Hong Kong Society conducted a survey to determine the expenses of FDH vis-a-vis the wages they receive. In particular, the Mission tried to look into the remittances of FDH that are being used by the levy proponents to justify their claims that migrant workers are having the easiest time amidst the present economic crunch.

Ninety-six percent of the respondents belong to the wage group that earns HK$3,670 to HK$4,119. The data gathered have shown that remittances for the needs of their families and savings only constitute 27% and 7% respectively of their salary.

The average monthly remittance of FDH is HK$1,287.31 which translates to only HK$42.91 per day. In the case of Filipino migrant workers this is equivalent to Philippine Peso (PhP)278.92. However, the daily cost of living in the Philippines according to official government data is PhP424.67. Thus, every month, Filipino migrants have a minimum deficit of 4,670 pesos or HK$719, to ensure that their families survive.

This does not even consider the fact that the Philippine government’s data is ridiculously low compared to the estimates of independent research groups.

While the rest of wages are eaten up by the Hong Kong economy, their families, who are the main reason for their migration abroad, continue to struggle to make ends meet.

The survey conducted has also shown the following:

Clearly, the claims that migrant workers live in a bed of roses is baseless, unjust and only aim to further decimate the chance of migrant’s families to survive. The belief that HK$750 or even HK$500 off the salary of the FDH will not have an adverse impact to their livelihood goes beyond cruelty to barbarism.

In fact, it is a death sentence to migrant workers and to their families!

Proponents of the levy on migrant workers must cease from their unwarranted attacks to the livelihood of FDH. We urge them and the Hong Kong government as well, instead, to look for ways that shall ease up the situation of the Hong Kong people, including the migrant workers, without sacrificing the lot of the already marginalised sector in Hong Kong.

Migrant workers and their families are already in a dire economic situation. They must be spared from more ordeals that a wage cut, be it levy or any form of taxation, shall surely bring.

*The two tables are compiled by The Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers

 

For more information, please refer to:

Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB)

Members:
Association of Sri Lankans in Hong Kong (ASL-HK)
Asosiasi Tenaga Kerja Indonesia - Hong Kong (ATKI-HK)
(Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers)
Far-East Overseas Nepalese Association - Hong Kong (FEONA-HK)
Friends of Thai - Hong Kong (FOT-HK)
United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK)

12/F., Room B, Arthur Commercial Bldg.
33 Arthur St., Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR
Tel nos: (852) 2810-4379, 2388-7554, 2314-7316
Fax nos: 2526-2894, 2626-9396
E-mail: amcb[at]migrants.net