Date
8 December 2016
It should be first and foremost the duty of employers to ensure their employees' safety. Photos: HKEJ, internet
It should be first and foremost the duty of employers to ensure their employees' safety. Photos: HKEJ, internet

Why we should support a ban on cleaning exterior of windows

Some time ago, I saw a chalk outline at a car park near my home and the security guard told me that a Filipina who worked in the same building fell to her death on that spot while cleaning a window.

Her death must have been an inconsolable grief to her parents, husband and children.

Little did they ever imagine that a temporary departure would end up as a permanent separation.

Since the announcement last week by the Philippines banning its nationals from cleaning exterior windows in high-rise buildings, there have been a lot of weird, even irrational, opposition to the idea.

Some said every job is dangerous. Some argued it should have been proposed by the Labor Department instead of the Philippine government.

Some joked it was a gesture by President Rodrigo Duterte to impress his people.

Some said employment contracts would be subject to frequent changes once the ban is in force.

All of these claims miss the point.

The discussion should be on whether window-cleaning is a dangerous duty and whether employees should continue to perform the task.

Indeed, it doesn’t require discussion at all. The facts clearly speak for themselves.

There have been two domestic helpers who have fallen victim this year alone.

It is just impossibly cold-blooded to oppose the Philippine government’s move.

Long ago, a friend of mine said he would not risk the life of his domestic worker by making her perform such tasks.

Sadly, not every employer thinks like him.

Why should people be more concerned over contracts and legal procedures than the safety of human lives?

As far as I know, the Singapore government has long addressed the window cleaning controversy and passed related legislation but Hong Kong’s has yet to do something regarding the matter.

It should be first and foremost the duty of employers to ensure their employees’ safety. Only then should it become the responsibility of the Labor Department.

Both parties have done little in that respect, so it is natural that the Philippine government is speaking out.

I am saddened by the fact that our society seems to have become rather mean and heartless.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 17.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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DY/JP/RA

HKEJ columnist; art, culture and food critic

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