25 August 2019
Many domestic helpers find that they have to put in some work even on their weekly day off, says a union activist. Photo: Bloomberg
Many domestic helpers find that they have to put in some work even on their weekly day off, says a union activist. Photo: Bloomberg

Domestic helpers short-changed on holidays: union

Domestic workers can file for compensation if they are deprived of holidays, a union activist pointed out, citing a recent case where an employer agreed to settle a compensation claim. 

If a helper has been deprived of holidays for four years, the person can seek HK$31,000 (US$4,000) in compensation, said Leo Tang, Organizing Secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions.

The Hong Kong Economic Times quoted Tang as saying that eight out of ten employers ask their domestic helpers to work during holidays, although it is stated clearly in employment contracts that a helper must be given one full day off in a week.

While the rule stipulates that the time off should be a continuous 24-hour stretch, in practice this is rarely followed, she said. 

Many employers ask their helpers to make breakfast before the maids are allowed to go out during their weekly holiday, and also wash dishes after they return home at night, she noted.

Tang said she has seen helpers working for as long as eight hours on their holiday, cutting short their time out of home to just five hours. However, the employers think that the helpers have had their day off.

At a day rate of HK$150, a helper could be entitled to HK$31,000 of extra pay for working on holidays over 52 weeks in four years. However, because of the high cost of filing claims and the need to extend visas and accommodation, most helpers tend to compromise, accepting just 20 to 30 percent of their due, Tang said.

Most employers refute charges of unfair practices, saying that it is the helpers who put in some work on holidays on voluntary basis. But the reality is that the helpers are forced to do so, as they fear that their employers would otherwise be angry.

Man Siu-ling, an officer at Caritas Community Development Services, said most of the helpers she contacted would not ask for extra pay. “They tend to think they should bear with the situation, while hoping that the next employer would be better,” Man said.

Since the helpers live and work at the same location, it is difficult to realize an absolute 24-hour holiday. However, if they are treated well, most domestic helpers are willing to help out and make compromises, Man noted.

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