Irrelevant residents: the plight of domestic workers in Hong Kong
If you have any money in Hong Kong, you have at least one domestic worker. They raise your children, learn to cook matzo balls just like Bubbie does, clean your flat, take care of your elderly. Around 300,000 Filipina and Indonesian women work in the homes of wealthy HK families. They are required to live in your home and cannot seek employment on the side. They work six days a week for minimum wage (if that) and few benefits.
And on their days off, because they live with their employers, they have nowhere to go but to the city’s many parks. You see thousands of women picnicking, laughing, posing for one another’s camera phones, polishing their nails.
But not only in parks – they are under bridges and highway overpasses, lining pedestrian tunnels, in every public square. It is a bizarre sight, and one that is impossible to ignore. In one square, there was a huge festival with dance troupes from different communities, and the crowning of the next ‘Queen of Ilocanos’ pageant winner. But mostly the women just spend the day off hanging out on picnic blankets eating and socializing.
These workers are at the center of HK’s hottest domestic political issue right now because it is nearly impossible for them to attain permanent residency. While most migrant workers in Hong Kong can apply for permanent residency after working for seven years, domestic workers do not have the same opportunity.
The day before I arrived in Hong Kong, a landmark court case was decided in favour of a Filipina woman claiming ‘right of abode,’ which would allow her to apply for permanent residency. This is a positive step for the hundreds of thousands of domestic workers struggling for equality and security, yet many Hong Kong citizens are protesting this judicial move and the government is appealing the ruling.
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