A More Inclusive Hong Kong for Migrant Domestic Workers, Is it Possible?

For many Filipinos who dream of giving their families and their self a chance at a better life, the brave the perils and risks of leaving their homes and working for other people in places entirely unfamiliar to them.

In this situation, some would think that both domestic workers and their employers equally benefit from this set-up, but the reality is – there is still much to be done for migrant workers in terms of legislative benefits and protection in countries such as Hong Kong where this sector supplies a large part of its economic prowess.

A More Inclusive Hong Kong for Migrant Domestic Workers, Is it Possible?

Making Hong Kong a More Inclusive Place for Migrant Domestic Workers

According to a government report released on Wednesday (March 5), Hong Kong’s migrant domestic workers have contributed an estimated USD 12.6 billion to the city’s economy, which represents 3.6% of the city’s domestic gross product (GDP), as shared in a report by the South China Morning Post.

Through the labour of the migrant domestic workers in the county, more than 110,000 mothers in Hong Kong were able to rejoin the workforce. In other parts of Asia, foreign domestic workers contributed approximately USD 8.2 billion to Singapore’s economy (or 2.4% of SG’s GDP) and USD 900 million to Malaysia (0.3% of its GDP).

According to Lucinda Pike, executive director of Hong Kong-based charity Enrich, which promotes the economic empowerment of migrant domestic workers, “Domestic work and caring for others is in many ways invisible work, behind closed doors. This is a hidden side of the economy and now we can put a number for the first time on the huge value of their care.”

In the Asia and the Pacific, more than 21 million domestic workers fill the care gap, and experts believe that the demand for this kind of work will continue to increase as populations age steadily, and fertility rates continue to see a decline amid a shortage of affordable care services across many countries in the world.

Through the work of migrant domestic helpers, more women in countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore are able to rejoin the workforce, thus increasing their contribution to the economy as well as the society. In Hong Kong alone, this translates to a 78% increase in labour force participation.

Despite the migrant community’s contribution to the overall progress of an economy such as that of Hon Kong, a sad picture persists as the reality of it all. For example, only 18% of migrant workers in Hong Kong have access to a bank account behind 51% and 86% in Singapore and Malaysia, respectively.

Pike pointed out that not only are migrant workers in Hong Kong financially excluded, but they are also most likely to be in debt and many end up returning home financially worse than when they started.

Based on the study, the following key factors have contributed to migrant domestic workers’ economic exclusion in Hong Kong:

  • Lack of financial literacy
  • Stringent regulations in opening bank accounts
  • Lack of funds to keep an account

Furthermore, Pike pointed out that an increasing international competition for migrant workers’ placement is now taking place, as Japan has recently developed more flexible regulations for migrant domestic workers.

Recognizing these workers’ contributions and impact to an economy will hopefully open the government’s eyes into exercising due care and protection for their socio-economic welfare as citizens of the country, as well.

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