Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Maid in China: Mainland Helpers Coming Soon?
It's not surprising that domestic helpers hit the headlines of Hong Kong's prominent papers (Indonesian lacing milk with bleach or Filipina killing her employer). Reasons behind these newsmakers include abuse of authority or incompetence. In the case of Filipinos, it's also about communication barriers; Indonesians are trained to speak conversational Cantonese and that's one reason they outnumber Filipino domestic helpers. In other unfortunate cases, petty disputes between employer and domestic helper can easily lead to termination of work.
Now, a stalled proposal to import Mainland domestic helpers is now making progress. The plan to hire them were already in place years ago, but safeguards against abuse and additional guidelines were not yet ready then. This time might be the right time to do so.
Of course, there are people who might try to game the new domestic helper policy. Some Mainland women who intend to stay in Hong Kong for good can have a cheaper alternative than paying off Hong Kong men to perform fake marriages. Officials have devised otherwise questionable guidelines on this. This include setting age limit (not attractive age for marriage?) of 40 or above and maximum stay of six years (one year below the standard qualification for permanent residence of seven years). Life begins at 40 but are fortysomething Mainland helpers more efficient than their younger counterparts? Also, I know Filipinas who have worked here for more than 20 years but whose status is still the same as before. Worse, they even pay levy to the government despite their low salary; the freeze is a good thing.
Does this pose as a threat to Indonesians and Filipinos working in the same field? No, said Mia Sumiati of Hong Kong Coalition of Indonesian Migrant Workers although she admitted that if such plans carry out, there will be fierce competition.
It is interesting to hear from Raymond Suen Cheung, managing director of HelperMatch Employment Agency that hiring Thais and Filipinas has become more difficult at this time because their income levels are rising. That could be one reason. But I am sure there are others: placement fees are so expensive, bad employment agencies, too much government regulations in sending Filipina (and Filipino) domestic helpers, Filipinas becoming more selective for fear of early termination. Others are even lured to work as domestic helpers as a front to prostitution.
Foreign domestic helpers from Indonesia, the Philippines or Thailand have already been subject to certain levels of discrimination. Some local officials have tried to link these workers with certain diseases and have proposed to move holidays to avoid further infection.
The coming of Mainland Chinese helpers is a good move because there are employers who seek their skills (Mandarin language, cultural affinity and others). It also promotes healthy competition with other domestic helpers and employers have a more diverse set to choose from.
Photo credit: lianqing