Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Equal Minimum Wage for FDWs in Hong Kong

April 16, 2009 - Press Statement: Hong Kong’s foreign domestic workers (FDWs) under the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) reiterate our call to the Legislative Council (Leg Co) and Labour Department to include them in the statutory minimum wage (SMW). The FDWs render valuable services to the HK society as part of its workforce – not the least of which is taking care of the elderly and the children – and thus, to exclude them from the SMW is unjust and discriminatory.

If the FDWs are already covered by the Labour Ordinance, why are we now being excluded from such a fundamental labour policy as the SMW? Such a move will contravene even conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO) regarding wage and related matters such as ILO Convention No. 97 Migration for Employment Convention (Revised), 1949.

With this exclusion, the wage of FDWs shall still be governed by the system of the Minimum Allowable Wage (MAW) which is just an Executive decision and thus can be subjected anytime to salary cuts, like in 1999 and 2003, especially now that a recession has engulfed Hong Kong and the rest of the world. It is ironic and very unprincipled to have a minimum wage reduced.

Furthermore, the ILO itself stated in its ILO–EC Conference in Brussels in 30–31 October 2008 that a minimum wage and collective bargaining may, for instance, help limit the decline in purchasing power and protect the most vulnerable workers. The number of low pay workers is likely to increase in Europe (because of the recession). A wage floor could thus play an important role in this difficult period as a tool for motivating workers and mitigating poverty. FDWs are included in the SMW’s of France and those outside Europe such as Australia and Ontario, Canada.

As one of the lowest paid workers in Hong Kong, FDWs urgently need the SMW as one possible way for increasing the wage to cope with the current crisis.

The AMCB also deems it dangerous for the LAB to use the condition that FDWs work 16 hours a day or more as a basis for the exclusion. This is tantamount to saying that such slave-like working hours is acceptable. While it is true that the working hours of FDWs are different from other workers, it is not impossible to set an SMW for FDWs as shown in other countries like France or Australia.

FDW wage should not be sacrificed merely because it is more convenient just to let the current exploitative condition remain.

The AMCB is already in the process of formulating a submission for the Labour Department on FDW inclusion to the SMW. We call on to the Labour Department, the LegCo and the HK government to heed the call of FDWs to be treated as workers and, thus, should not be excluded from a very important legislation as the minimum wage.

Finally, the AMCB calls on to our fellow workers among the local trade unions to remain steadfast in the demand to have all workers covered by the SMW. Only if all workers are protected can we really be confident that the rights of workers will be upheld.

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