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Health and labour rights of migrant domestic workers “at risk” with the COVID-19 outbreak

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The COVID-19 outbreak and the consequent actions by the Hong Kong government have put migrant domestic workers “at risk” due to lack of provision or access to protection, as well as the resulting worse working conditions owing to the mandatory live-in requirement for MDWs.

Lack of provision and access to masks and sanitisers by a significant number of MDWs means many are left unprotected from the virus. As shown by the findings of the survey, over half of MDWs are vulnerable to COVID-19 due to total absence or very limited access to personal protective equipment that can minimize the risk of infection.

Financial assistance to help cope with additional expenses is also denied to MDWs. The announced cash assistance that can help Hong Kong residents excludes MDWs who have to continue to get from their meagre salary the extra expenses for masks, alcohol, sanitizers, and even supplements that can boost a person’s immune system.

The changes in the working and living condition of MDWs are also notable. The prevalence of stress among MDWs due to overworking, the added financial burden, lack of rest and sleep and the prolonged isolation from our community and family actually makes MDWs more vulnerable to various ailments. Discriminatory and exclusionary government policies such as the “mandatory live-in arrangements” for MDWs coupled with the social distancing policy make the situation all the more unbearable physically and mentally for the sector.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, labour rights violations are prevalent. The most common forms are the deprivation of weekly statutory rest day, the over-exposure to harmful chemical cleaning agents and the lack of access to redress and grievance mechanisms.

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, policies and preventive actions by the Hong Kong government exclude household carers who are members of hundreds of thousands of households and a significant community in Hong Kong. The very nature of our work– working where they live – already makes them share the risk as the rest of the Hong Kong households.

In this time of the COVID-19, the vulnerability of MDWs require that protection of their health and rights be one of the major concerns. However, instead of concrete actions to help protect MDW as part of the all households, the government’s policies seem to be more directed on how to prevent MDWs to become vectors of the virus.

The current situation further exposes and magnifies the problems of MDWs arising from government policies especially in terms of wages, working hours, accommodation and other labour rights

In the absence of a comprehensive policy to address the socio-economic, political, public health and cultural impacts of the COVID-19, the Hong Kong government practically passed the responsibility to private households to manage the virus risks. If public policies are made, they exclude migrant domestic workers that further render us invisible and vulnerable.

Ironically, if MDWs are left vulnerable, then households are also vulnerable. The government must embrace the belief that Hong Kong’s survival depends on the survival of all. No one should be left unprotected and uncared for.

Thus, the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (AMCB) have put forward the following demands to the HKSAR government.

1. The HKSAR government should ensure a better and more comprehensive social, economic and public health policy to address the COVID-19 and include MDWs in national safety preventive and protection programs. The government should pro-actively support Hong Kong households and include MDWs and others in the care sector.

2. Conduct widespread information to households employing MDWs on their responsibilities to include them in the adequate provision of protective materials.

3. Ensure that MDWs have access and correct information on COVID-19 especially those involving MDWs.

4. Curb overpricing and ensure adequate supply of affordable protective materials for all.

5. Withdraw the discriminatory advisory of the Labour Department “suggesting” MDWs to stay in their workplace during rest days

6. Abolish discriminatory restrictions like the “Two- Week Rule” and make the “Live-In Policy” optional to lessen the vulnerability of MDWs and improve our living and working condition.

They call to: FIGHT C.O.V.I.D.! – Coronavirus | Overwork | Vulnerability | Inequality | Discrimination

Press Statement released by Asian Migrants Coordinating Body on March 16, 2020.

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