By Patricia B. Mirasol

The average monthly salary of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong topped HK$5,000 (P31,183.19; HK$1 = P6.24) in 2020, according to HelperChoice, an ethical recruitment platform. 

Greece, a Filipino domestic worker in Hong Kong, decided to work there because of the promise of higher compensation. “I had a bad experience [working in the Middle East]. Some of my friends told me that Hong Kong was a better place for domestic workers, not because of the freedom we have during holidays, but because of the higher salary [as compared to] other countries,” she said in a WhatsApp message to HelperChoice.

Like Greece, fellow domestic worker Marlina cited good pay as her primary reason for staying in Hong Kong. “I am happy that I can save more money and support my daughter until she finishes her studies. Every Sunday, I have a lot of fun with my friends, so [I don’t] feel homesick.”

According to data gleaned between September 2019 to September 2020, foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong earned HK$5,012 on average, representing a 1.35% increase compared to a 2019 study, and a 14% increase since 2016

Although the 2020 average exceeds HK$4,630—the minimum allowable wage for foreign domestic helpers prescribed by the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region—it still does not meet the average salary expected by foreign domestic workers, who, on average, request a salary of HK$5,259.

Workers cannot expect a raise any time soon as the Hong Kong government announced a wage freeze on September 29 due to the economic contraction caused by COVID-19.

According to HelperChoice, foreign domestic workers employed by families living in wealthier districts such as Wanchai, Southern, North, Central & Western, and Sai Kung can expect an average salary of HK$5,257. Meanwhile, employers in the Kwun Tong, Sha Tin, Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin, and Kwai Tsing districts offer an average salary of HK$4,726, or just HK$96 above the minimum mandated salary. 

A 2017 survey by Chinese University’s Research Centre on Migration and Mobility discovered that more than 70% of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong work over 13 hours a day and that 34.6% need to work on off days. 

Workers surveyed by HelperChoice this year mentioned a deterioration in their working conditions: 31% reported an increase in workload; 25%, longer working hours. Due to the economic difficulties of the pandemic, over a fifth (21%) also said they were in constant fear that their contracts would be terminated.

Ethical recruitment agencies similar to HelperChoice were established in recent years to help foreign domestic workers make informed decisions in the job market, thus minimizing the risk of debt bondage and bad working conditions.