Hong Kong may face a shortage of well-trained domestic helpers to take care of the city’s elderly population, which is projected to double to 2.3 million by 2034, a research paper released by the Legislative Council Secretariat on Thursday shows.
Currently, childcare appears to be the primary duty of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) in the city with 44 percent of “nuclear families” with children and working mothers employing them, according to the research brief.
With the support of these helpers, married females are released for productive work in the labor market, raising the living standard of the families and contributing to further development of the local economy.
However, the city’s population is aging fast. Based on data from the Census and Statistics Department, the size of the elderly population aged 65 and above is estimated to surge by 120 percent in two decades, raising their ratio from 15 percent to 30 percent over the period.
This situation will pose a big manpower challenge as many of the elderly may have special medical care needs, the research paper said.
Of the singleton households comprising only an elderly person aged 60 or above, 9.7 percent employed FDHs last year, a steep rise from 2.5 percent in 1995 and 5.2 percent in 2005.
Likewise, the ratio of FDHs working for retired couple households increased to 7.8 percent last year from 2.5 percent in 1995.
Hong Kong, of course, may also tap local domestic helpers for elderly care duties. However, the paper said, the number of households employing local maids is relatively small, estimated to be just 25,700 or 1.2 percent of households in 2000.
“Even with some 10,000 local females receiving training on handling household chores from the Employees Retraining Board every year, this amount is still deemed small to meet the potential demand arising from the aging trend in Hong Kong,” the Legco research brief said.
The study noted that in other places, such as Singapore and Taiwan, special subsidies and tailor-made training are provided in the recruitment of domestic helpers for home-based elderly care.
In Singapore, the government has provided a monthly concession of S$205 (about HK$1,152) to families employing domestic helpers to take care of elderly members since 2004. In Taiwan, similar living allowances are given to the elderly and families in need to reduce their cost of employing FDHs.
In Japan, robots for the nursing needs and medical care of elderly people are being developed. The Japanese government announced the “New Robot Strategy” in 2015, aiming to develop and apply robots in major fields including nursing and medical care, and to put robot technologies in some 100 medical care-related devices by 2020.
352,000 foreign domestic helpers
According to the Legco paper, which serves as a research input for lawmakers, foreign domestic helpers have formed an integral part of the community since Hong Kong launched a policy of admitting them in the early 1970s.
In 2016, around 352,000 FDHs were employed in 11 percent of local households and represented 9 percent of the overall workforce.
Analyzed by ethnic composition, the Philippines remains the largest source of supply of FDHs, followed by Indonesia. The two countries take up almost 98 percent of the local supply of domestic helpers. A smaller number of maids and nannies come from India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Hong Kong employers need to pay FDHs a minimum wage stipulated by law, which was adjusted upward by 2.4 percent to HK$4,310 per month in October 2016.
The pay for helpers in Hong Kong was about 1.5 times and 1.9 times higher than the average local wages in the Philippines and in Indonesia respectively, providing a steady stream of income remitted to their families in their home countries.
In fact, the monthly wage received by an FDH in Hong Kong is 35 percent higher than the pay for a household maid in Singapore. These wage differentials appear to provide continued incentive for Filipinos and Indonesians to work in Hong Kong.
The research brief is now available on the Legislative Council website.
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