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Migrant workers push for overdue wage hike

HONG KONG (Mabuhay) : The Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, a coalition of Filipino, Indonesian, Thai, Nepali and Sri Lankan domestic workers in Hong Kong, is calling on the government to raise the Minimum Allowable Wage to $4,500 a month at its closed door review this year.

This is the second year in a row that the group has asked for a substantial wage hike. Last year saw disappointment when instead of the $490 wage rise requested, the government responded with a $100 hike, bringing the monthly wage to $4,110.

A spokesperson for the coordinating Body, Dolores Balladares-
Pelaez, said that a strong campaign is being planned for this year, which will target not only the minimum wage, but also the food allowance that some workers receive from their employers in lieu of meals.

She pointed out that the $964 a month food allowance averages out at $31.10 a day in a 31-day month, with a marginal increase to $32.13 in a 30-day month. Even during the short month of February, which is a leap year next year, it would amount to only $33.24 a day.

“It does not take a three-digit IQ to figure out that this only buys you one simple meal in Hong Kong. It is statistically impossible for any foreign worker to be decently fed on this amount of money on a daily basis,” Balladares-Pelaez said in a statement.

The migrant community group wants the allowance to go up to $1,600 a month in order to ensure decent nourishment for those who have to live on the allowance day in and day out.

An Indonesian member of the Coordinating Body, Sringatin, argued that this year’s call for a substantial wage hike is even more valid than it was last year.

Sringatin said that in asking for the increase last year, the group declared that the $4,500 would represent only an $810 raise over the 15-year period from 1998, when the foreign domestic worker monthly wage was $3,680.

“The $100 increase last year was practically an insult to the sector, as it only amounts to an additional $3.23 per day. Needless to say, this is woefully inadequate,” Sringatin said.

A spokesperson for the government said on September 30 last year that what workers have described as insignificant rises have been carefully calculated against the economic outlook and what employers can afford to pay.

“Taking into account Hong Kong’s near-term economic outlook and striking a balance between the affordability of employers and the livelihood of foreign domestic helpers, the government has decided to make the above mentioned adjustment.”

The spokesperson added, “The government has also reviewed the food allowance in lieu of free food and decided to make an increase, having regard to the movement in the relevant consumer price index.”

Balladares-Pelaez called this discriminatory, as it is out of proportion with local workers’ salaries and average spent per day on food by local residents.

She added that the city is losing its competitive edge in attracting foreign labour, because of its unwillingness to pay competitive wages.

Sringatin said, “There is a rising exodus of experienced foreign domestic workers from Hong Kong to Canada and Russia, and this may be attributed in a large part to more attractive wage and benefit packages.”

She concluded, “The Hong Kong government has to rethink its wage policies on foreign domestic workers fast if it intends to remain responsive to the welfare needs of its citizens in the short and long term.”

However, the rationale of the government point of view is difficult to fathom as it describes the Minimum Allowable Wage and the food allowance as minimum standards, adding that employers may choose to provide better terms, according to their particular circumstances, which sounds more like an allowance than a wage.


She added that the
city is losing its
competitive edge in attracting foreign labour, because
of its unwillingness
to pay competitive wages