Domestic helpers push for an end to live-in rule

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Maids say living with their employers exposes them to the risk of assault and harassment
Monday, 04 March, 2013, 12:00am, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong

Ng Kang-chung

Domestic helpers gather to ask the government in Hong Kong to protect them from violence. Photo: AFP

A group of foreign domestic helpers want a requirement for them to live with their employers to be scrapped.

The Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers' Union says the rule exposes maids to the risk of indecent assault or sexual harassment by their employers.

They voiced their concerns yesterday with a rally outside the HSBC headquarters in Central, at which domestic helpers recounted recent ordeals they have had while living with their employers in the city.

One Indonesian maid at the demonstration described feeling vulnerable one night when her boss came into her room.

"My boss entered my room and touched my hand while talking to me. I was so scared and cried for help. He then left my room. I was so scared but I dared not tell others. I quit the job the following day," she said.

A Nepali woman said domestic helpers can find themselves in uncomfortable situations, but they often feel powerless to act.

"A friend told me that her boss liked to watch porn films while she was working at home. She felt very embarrassed and scared but did not complain, for fear she would lose the job," she said.

Lam Ying-hing, of the Confederation of Trade Unions, and one of the organisers of the protest, said the rule that domestic helpers must live with their employers was partly to blame.

"Foreign maids would not have been in these ridiculous situations if not for the government's mandatory requirement for them to live in," Lam said.

She added that many maids chose to keep quiet about such incidents. "If they report or file a complaint about a case, they end up suffering and they'll lose the job," Lam said.

About 30 protesters chanted "stop sexual abuse, protect domestic helpers", and waved banners as they marched to Government House to deliver a petition. They want the government to review the live-in requirement and protect the safety and rights of foreign domestic helpers.

"There is no rule in the Employment Ordinance requiring decent and safe living conditions for workers who reside in their workplace," said Lam.

The federation said in a statement: "[Maids] should be provided with a separate, private room that is suitably furnished, adequately ventilated and equipped with a lock, the key to which should be provided to the domestic worker."

A 37-year-old man was sentenced to 8-1/2 years' jail last September after he was found guilty of raping his Indonesian maid at his Tsuen Wan home in 2010.

This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition on Mar 04, 2013 as Domestic helpers push for an end to live-in rule

Source: 4 Mar 2013, South China Morning Post

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