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Wednesday, 10/22/2014

Minimum wage

POSTED BY evildeeds (6 yrs ago)

It will have no effect whatsoever. FDH are here on completely different visa's and work contracts to those working in the local market. The government will not change that as it knows it would face a huge backlash.

What may change is the salaries paid to LOCAL house help who have been protesting recently for a $55/hr minimum. People using local maids as opposed to FDH would have to take into account any minimum wage legislation.

#1 POSTED BY hkwatcher (6 yrs ago)

The Labour Dept uses a different set of rules for DH b/c they are not native to HK. They are hired under a 2 year contract with the salary set by the Gov. Any changes to minimum wage will not apply.BUT will aply to a HK DH.

#2 POSTED BY bed in hkg (6 yrs ago)

HK domestic helpers do not live with the family, work maybe once or twice a week for a few hours each time, do not get free accommodation, food, etc. As such different rules and wages apply.

#3 POSTED BY axptguy38 (5 yrs ago)

Not that I don't think helpers deserve higher pay than the current average (and we do pay much more), but a minimum wage of 9k would indeed put a lot (most?) out of work. And what good would that do? Sure, the maids who are still here would be happy, but far fewer would get work.

I don't see it happening.

#4 POSTED BY punter (5 yrs ago)

This is the most effective way for the government to stop the influx of FDHs and force two income families to revert to having one. Only the real wealthy families will be able to afford 9k/month.

#5 POSTED BY Snow Rose (5 yrs ago)

"The party said after deducting the maid's living expenses, it would only cost an employer HK$4,890 a month, at HK$33 per hour and 10 hours work a day."

An interesting idea to deduct the helper's living expenses - at present employers are responsible for these costs. And how are we supposed to calculate the living expenses? There are so many different points to take into consideration!

And if we are to deduct the living expenses from the helper's salary, will she still be living in? Or will the helpers be allowed to live out? Now that would really would be wonderful - not to be obliged to have the helper living in when the preference is to the contrary!

If this really came to pass, it would be great for my family - I would only employ my helper for 35 - 40 hours per week. Just imagine the benefits in families all over Hong Kong!! - Children (and their parents!) learning to be more self-sufficient because they are being charged by the hour for any help they require!

But as axptguy points out, somehow I don't see this happening. Sounds too good to be true.

"Helpers are already planning to march on this issue"
If I thought it would help them make the above proposals come true, I'd join in!

#6 POSTED BY miao miao (5 yrs ago)

beerboy -- it's an interesting question you raised. my guess is few would be willing to pay 12k pm; instead the work arrangement/relationship would be realigned so that the nominal hours would not be 14 any more (assuming it is now as you mentioned)

such as:
- the employers would take over some tasks, especially those done at early morning/late evening hours;
- some work would be rearranged so the helpers would be asked to finish as much as possible before a certain time and pick up what's left the next day (if things can wait such as dish washing)
- the helpers would be required to work efficiently since they are charged by hours (based on my own observation, sometimes it takes live-in helpers longer to do the same task than it takes part-time people, because they are chatting on the phone as they are working, or just because they don't feel time pressure so work in a laid-back way (my helper sometimes only has 5 shirts to iron on an entire afternoon so she's free to do it as slowly as she wants).

as to child care, if a lot of people who are currently relying on helpers for full-time child care could no longer afford it, then i'm wondering whether the day-care business would start to emerge in HK -- i've always been wondering whether the easy availability of helpers is the reason behind its non-existence.

all in all, i don't think a lot of people would be willing to pay 12k pm but things would work out differently under the market rules.

#7 POSTED BY homely (5 yrs ago)

Some employers not willing to pay 12k, some don't have the resources to pay that much so lots of FDH will be out of jobs. Nobody win!

#8 POSTED BY GemmaW (5 yrs ago)

I know the security guards at my building are only paid between $7k-8k per month. If they have to pay helpers $9k, I am sure they would choose to stay home looking after their own kids instead.

It's okay if you are earning an expat income, but I would think that the majority of hongkongers cannot afford this.

This in turn would mean lots of helpers will be out of a job, hardly ideal if they have families to support also.

#9 POSTED BY axptguy38 (5 yrs ago)

GemmaW hits the nail on the head. While I would love to see helpers earning more on average, I would rather not see 50% of them have to head home. I think most rather earn 3600 than nothing at all.

Also, think of the knock-on effects. Lots of people with jobs would stay home, meaning less money in circulation, less spending, etc... Like it or not, a helper often frees up a family member who can then earn money.

#10 POSTED BY axptguy38 (5 yrs ago)

The government is already discriminating against FDHs. For example their years in HK do not count towards residence. I may be cynical but I don't think they will have a problem discriminating with regards to salary as well.

#11 POSTED BY peanuts (5 yrs ago)

We would also see the intergenrational support on the child care and house chores in traditional Chinese culture will largely re-emerge.

#12 POSTED BY sister (5 yrs ago)

Snow Rose, you may yet have a chance to march with helpers! The 'position' of HK people who DO have the vote (unlike FDWs who never ever can, under the present system) will mean alot. About the calculation of living expenses, that comes from a government statistic of average implicit costs paid by employers, of food and housing. (around $5,000). That is assuming live-in. If live-out (which is currently not allowed, but should be), then the helper would presumably get the whole $10,000 or so per month, and be able to choose her own housing arrangement. But going back to assuming live-in, which is the only option for helpers now, if the domestic helper works 'reasonable' hours of 10 hours a day, the monthly cost is not too high - around $4,800.

I agree with miao miao, if the cost rises for more hours worked, it would have an effect of getting parents to actually parent - take care of their own kids in the morning and evening instead of just sitting there while a single helper takes care of the material needs of the whole household of parents plus kids. AND, create more overall social pressure for cheaper and more widely available childcare. Currently, HK is extremely un-child-friendly for the general public.

As for 50% of helpers being sent home, that sounds very unlikely. Where I live, families are utterly dependent on their helpers, needing them not only to clean and cook but shuttle their children from one activity to another. If it means only an extra $1,000 or so per month, they will certainly pay, rather than the mother/wife stay home doing ALL of that which she was accustomed to instructing someone else to do.

Apart from the government not being able to justify discrimination, also any workers (i.e., employers who are also workers!) who benefit from labour laws and minimum wage cannot really justify withholding those rights from foreign domestic workers....

#13 POSTED BY axptguy38 (5 yrs ago)

"Apart from the government not being able to justify discrimination, also any workers (i.e., employers who are also workers!) who benefit from labour laws and minimum wage cannot really justify withholding those rights from foreign domestic workers...."

The cynic in me says helpers are discriminated against today and this treatment will continue. And why should other workers care if they can take advantage of the helper "system". The average joe just isn't that altruistic.

#14 POSTED BY beancurd (5 yrs ago)

Just for about HK$ 200 salary increase recently, very difficult to approved, what is more of the per hour pay. I do not believe it will ever happen.

#15 POSTED BY Snow Rose (5 yrs ago)

"About the calculation of living expenses, that comes from a government statistic of average implicit costs paid by employers, of food and housing. (around $5,000). "

So you mean the government would calculate the living costs to be around $5000 and everyone would deduct the same amount? Regardless of the standard of the helpers' quarters in different homes?

I think my helpers' quarters are about average, not worth $5000 per month. Even if I factor in the money I pay her to her food, it still doesn't come to that amount. And some helpers' rooms are even smaller - just like a cupboard and no separate bathroom. I guess those helpers would not be at all happy with a deduction of $5000.

The practicalities are just so difficult, glad I'm not the one whose job it is to figure all this out! But if/when someone else comes up with a way to make this work, I'll vote for it! :)

#16 POSTED BY axptguy38 (5 yrs ago)

"So now that the gov will include FDH in the minimum wage review what are your thoughts and do you really think that a FDH is a necessity ?"

Necessity? For us, strictly speaking no (but for others perhaps yes). One of the most cost effective ways of dramatically improving quality of life? Yes.

#17 POSTED BY axptguy38 (5 yrs ago)

beerboy, I meant cost effective for the employer. Hiring a helper is one of the most cost effective ways to free up time for an employer. Whether that employer chooses to use the freed up time to work or do other things does not change its effectiveness.


"To many people believe hard work is the key and not working smart/efficiently."

I don't understand how this applies in this context.

#18 POSTED BY Snow Rose (5 yrs ago)

"So now that the gov will include FDH in the minimum wage review "

What do you mean? Has there been some kind of decision on this within the past few days? I haven't heard ...

#19 POSTED BY sister (5 yrs ago)

I think at the moment it's far from certain that the government will include FDHs in the minimum wage! In one or two indications from the Labour Advisory Board, they've basically sided with the employer's representative, who has said that the helpers would become very expensive - $12,000 per month - calculating, of course, for 16 hours work per day which they apparently find reasonable. The point is to scare people away from supporting FDWs coming under the HK minimum wage.

The fact is, even for low wage workers like in KFC or McDonalds, the wage would drastically increase. It would go from about $20/ hour to $33/hour (possibly). Naturally employers don't like it but the whole point is to set a wage such that people working full time can meet their living expenses in Hong Kong and have a decent life.

beancurd has mentioned the difficulty of raising the monthly FDW wage by $200. That's true. But that was when there was no other minimum wage. And the FDW wage applied to 'only FDWs' who have no voting rights and are practically second class citizens. Now the government is seriously suggesting 1) to have a minimum wage - which MEANS acknowledging the need for a wage floor, to limit working poverty; and yet 2) that female migrant workers who come to do domestic work SHOULD NOT EVEN GET this minimum which they already recognized for Hong Kong people. There is no way around the fact that it's outright discrimination and exploitation.

The reluctance to agree to FDWs under the HK minimum wage is, I am pretty sure, linked to reluctance to clearly define working hours of the helpers. Hong Kong people are accustomed to treating their helpers as absolute servants six days a week, with employers having total control over their helpers' time, food intake, socializing, rest, everything....

By the way, I doubt that HK people are going to choose to stay home to work because their helpers's salary went up by $1,000 or $1,200. First of all, there is a minimum salary of an employer, in order to be able to hire, I think it is $15,000. If you have below that amount of income, you won't be hiring a FDW. Now if you have two people with that salary, and have hired one helper for $3,580, it is doubtful (and obviously not economically sensible) that you will forgo $15,000 income because your helper salary went up by $1,200.

The government and employers' argument of $12,000 or $9,000 per month is disingenuous, esp. because first of all it does not calculate the assumed costs of live-in, and also because it assumes exaggerated working hours. If a worker is given reasonable working hours, the employer can pay reasonably; if you demand 12 hour working days, you should pay 12 hours worth. That is not the case now!! For the same flat monthly amount, an employer can force the worker to work anywhere between 8 and 22 hours per day. In effect, the current wage system as applied to FDWs, PUNISHES employers who are 'stupid' enough to get only 8 hours of work out of their helpers, and REWARDS (??) employers who are 'clever' enough to extract maximum hours and labour out of their helper 6 (and often in practice 7) days per week. An hourly wage, with implicit limit to working hours (from the clear price put on each hour of labour) would have the effect of deterring such abuse of workers. But the extraordinarily huge control employers have over their helpers is not a luxury they would easily give up. So there will be some battle over this, and I only hope that employers and any people who believe discrimination is wrong, will be able to express it in public and help tip opinion against keeping FDWs out of the HK minimum wage.

#20 POSTED BY Snow Rose (5 yrs ago)

sister -

I agree that the present system 'punishes' employers who only require their helpers to work 8 or fewer hours per day, and 'rewards' those who work their helpers 12+ hours per day. And I strongly feel that this needs to be changed, so that it is in people's interest to do more themselves, this will result in helpers having more humane working hours.

But 2 more factors aggravate this problem: firstly that in Hong Kong there is a workaholic culture, the employer thinks "I work 80+ hours per week, so why shouldn't my helper do 85-90 hrs per week? It's only a bit more than me..." In other words, people see it as normal for their helpers to work long hours.

Secondly, the helpers themselves do perpetuate the problem and they need to take responsibility for that. Lots of helpers have this mindset that they should work 7am - 9pm, or 6am - 10pm, that they should never allow the employer to see them resting -- I have employed 3 helpers (over the course of 6 years & incl. my present one) like this and no matter what I say or do they won't stop it. I guess they fear they employer will be dissatisfied with them, or they fear that if the employers becomes too independent they will not need the helper anymore and then she'll lose her job. Of course all this is nonsense, but it is up to the helpers to correct their own thinking.

As to whether the govt will include FDWs in the minimum wage law, I really hope they will, but I guess it's 50/50. They have discriminated against helpers before - FDHs get no PR status even after 7 yrs work here - and if that's not discrimination I don't know what is. But on the other hand, the govt really really wants to have the cleaning work given to the locals instead of being done by foreign workers (for political & economic reasons), so making FDHs prohibitively expensive is one way of doing that.

#21 POSTED BY maxis (5 yrs ago)

you will never get DH having a "minimum wage" in line with broader HK society, as then:

1. they'd be entitled to all the normal labour laws
2. they'd then be entitled to "resident" benefits
3. they's then be entitled to PR once they'd done their 7 years
4. it'd be harder to work them hard
5. essentially they'd eventually become like everyone else.

HK society thrives on "cheap labour" which can be adminstered within the home, absent from public scrutiny and normal industrial relation law/occupational health and sefety.

I believe it is 15k/month/household to enable you to hire a FDH. This means even those from a low socio-economic group can have others to do what they can't/don't do.

This aspect of HK society is here to stay - there is no way that a society such as that of HK would allow itself to no longer have the FDH opportunity at dirt cheap prices.

However, if your household only makes 15k/month, you can't afford a house big enough to have a FDH, you probably don't work hard/long enough to even need a FDH, you would be so tight on the cash that the FDH wold be monitored on even how much they trimmed off the vegetables.

#22 POSTED BY smallfry (5 yrs ago)

I think the fact the HK government is having this debate at all is a positive sign that change can be effected to produce a more equitable work environment for FDHs.

Social change happens slowly but it does happen and considering the possiblity of such change is a vital first step in (eventually) legislating for it. Good law requires public support and, until the community supports it there is no point in implementing that law.

A parallel can be made with the proposition 8 proposal in California allowing same sex marriages. This was recently overturned by the Cal State Court although the marraiages that had taken place before repeal were found to be valid.

Does this decision mean that same sex marriage is now dead? No, it gives the proponents a chance to work on a new proposal (which takes into account the deficiencies of Prop 8), to galvanise support in the community and to work on a new campaign which has a better chance of success.

Similarly, even if there is now no change for FHDs as far as minimum wage is concerned, supporters can use this discussion to build the case to implement it in the future.

#23 POSTED BY miao miao (5 yrs ago)

Snow Rose raised an interesting point about the two aggravating factors contributing to helpers' long hours. I agree with both. And I think there are two more factors.

One is the nature of domestic work -- by nature the most busy time in most households with children is the morning and the evening. Whoever is repsonsible for the housework, be it a helper or a housewife, she's likely to be doing some work at 7:00am (at the latest) and 8:00pm (at the earliest), though she may have quite a relaxed time during the day.

The other is the fact that helpers in HK live in their employers' house. Even if a 9-6 day is set for a helper, when there are many things going on early in the morning or around dinner time/children bed time, the helper is probably afraid to just sit around while the employers are sweating to do the work.

So I think if FDHs are to be included in the minimum wage, practically they'll have to be allowed to live out so that they have clear cut hours to calculate their wage. Otherwise I don't see how this can be enforced. Without clear cut hours there will also be a lot of controversies as to how many hours one actually works (and thus payable) though she starts at 7:00am and finishes at 9:00pm.

#24 POSTED BY sister (5 yrs ago)

Speaking of socio economic impacts, the vital role played by domestic helpers in the lives of HK families is testified to by the relatively small outcry to the sudden school closures due to swine flu. However, we have seen lately more and more 'impacts' with children left alone, and parents being charged. This is a no-brainer. What does the government expect a double-income family to do, when the school suddenly closes? Who will take care of the children? ONly if you're lucky enough to be in the upper middle class, you can have a full-time helper. In fact, the government should make full time child care affordable and widely available. Obviously it's working class people who end up leaving their kids at home (well not exclusively but), and suffering from job pressure and the need to look after kids at short notice. On the side of those lucky employers with helpers too, it is also still not really healthy at all that HK people get more and more dependent on someone being there 24 hours a day to wash, cook, clean, tutor, fetch things, wipe butts, change peed on bedsheets, etc. You can imagine how many parents barely know how to change diapers, because they have always been leaving it to helpers. Even worse, how many children are growing up utterly coddled and unable to function independently even to older ages. 220,000 affected families. They should be able to 'make do' with a helper helping them while they are out at work, then take up parenting when they get home - like parents all around the world. If there is difficulty, that is why governments provide child care, kindergartens, schools....no matter what, living our lives with food cooked and house cleaned should not depend on someone migrated into the country and working non-stop with no hours of her OWN free time in a work day. Literally THOUSANDS if not tens of thousands of those helpers, are not able to freely go out to see a friend, to even receive phone calls, during the six working days in a week. If you imagine yourself in the situation, you would see that it's enslavement. All your hours of the days, belong to the employer. This is not how labour in modern society should be. Yes, the government should make provisions so lives are not unduly disrupted. Let's hope it shows more common sense than it did with the school closures.

#25 POSTED BY sister (5 yrs ago)

By the way, I have seen today this online petition circulating! For HK citizens and employers who want to SUPPORT foreign domestic helpers going under the same minimum wage - and also to support them not being treated as second class citizens and as slaves working nonstop, with no rights to enter the home etc. See this petition. http://gopetition.com/online/29168.html

Sign if interested! The government is tabling that bill excluding helpers from the minimum wage, on July 8.


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