September 27, 2004

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A price above rubies

What are Hong Kong's army of domestic helpers actually worth to the economy? Around HK$13 billion a year. That equates to over HK$50,000 per person, a sizable contribution. The helpers are estimated to spend around HK$800 a month in Hong Kong (the monthly minimum wage is HK$3,270); 36% care for children, saving employers HK$2.1 billion a year in child care fees; 10% care for the elderly, saving HK$2.5 billion for families each year in nursing care. The helpers remit most of the rest of their salary back to their home countries; in the Philippines these remittances are the largest exports at US$6.5 billion a year.

The best part for Hong Kong is this:

According to Dr Vivian Wee of the South East Asian Research Centre at Hong Kong University: "The government saves an unbelievable amount. They haven't invested in the care of the elderly or childcare.''
Despite this, Hong Kong has twice cut the minimum wage for maids since 1997. The latest cut last year of HK$400 a month co-incided with a new "training levy" (read tax) of the same amount. Domestic helpers are still discriminated against in a myriad of ways. They are ineligible for permanent residency after being in the SAR 7 years, whereas foreign professionals can claim it. They get a maximum 2 weeks to find another job if terminated. They can be terminated at any time, basically without cause. They cannot bring any family members to HK. They cannot work outside of their employment contract. Many people ignore or look right past these people as if they are almost less than human. They are often treated disgracefully, abused and treated like an underclass.

Yet without them Hong Kong would not be the low taxing "free" economy that is today. It is built partly upon this army of low wage earning helpers that replace or supplement many of the normal functions of Government. Great way to say thanks, isn't it?

posted by Simon on 09.27.04 at 11:59 AM in the Hong Kong category.


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and the 'flip'side - no pun intended - a mate of mine has just been totally screwed by his thieving filipina amah. she had it way too good - living in, looking after 2 lads who eat out regularly, have no kids, and paid her well over the minimum. last week they found out that, contrary to being at a friends house for a few days in HK, she is in fact in the phiippines, and will not be coming back. at the same time, he has just found out that she has been taking money from his bank account. when he phoned her in the philppines, she admitted to everything - stating she had hepatitis c as her reason for stealing over 20 thousand dollars and leaving the country. unsurprisingly, she has provided no medical proof of this. this is a lady who, whenever we were around for bbqs, would be invited to join us at the table. we always helped her tidy up - she was a good laugh, seemingly very kind, and had zero reason to do the dirty. he has essentially been completely kicked in the bollocks. the police (both western and chinese) said that in 99.99% of cases of domestic thefts from expats, the amah did it. this is because westerners are way too trusting. feel sorry for the filipinas? nah, fuck em, they can't be trusted.

posted by: aaron on 09.27.04 at 01:01 PM [permalink]

That's unfortunate, but like any circumstance where you are an employer you need to also be careful to maintain some discretion and distance. Why did she have access to bank accont details? I'd also say you are always going to get bad apples in amongst a large group, such as 240,000 helpers. For the large part they do their jobs diligently and well.

posted by: Simon on 09.27.04 at 02:46 PM [permalink]

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