It’s been a month and a half since I started interning at HELP for Domestic Workers, so I thought it was about time to do a recap of everything that’s happened since (spoiler: a fuck ton). Just a brief introduction—HELP stands for help, empowerment, and legal protection. The organization provides legal assistance and advice to domestic workers in Hong Kong and their office is located in the basement of St. John’s Cathedral so yeah, I work in a cathedral Monday-Friday it’s chill.
I remember frantically applying to internships starting all the way back in December. I genuinely felt so much angst about what I was going to do over the summer because 1) I still haven’t decided what the fuck I want to do with my life after uni, 2) all my friends were doing cool things (scientific research, language study abroads, Navy training etc.), 3) how do you even go about looking for an internship, 4) how do you obtain an internship that asks for 672 years of experience when you have approximately 0 years of experience, 5) the list goes on??????? But I knew that I really wanted to be back in Hong Kong for the summer and that I wanted to do some sort of legal internship that was related to human rights, so HELP was the organization that I had my sights set on. I applied, had a Skype interview (after which I was certain I wasn’t going to get the position because they told me there was one spot open with about ten candidates applying), and in April they got back to me and told me that I was in!!!!!!
I started work on May 15th, a-day-and-a-half after I landed in Hong Kong. It was slow at first and I spent a few days just reading the training manual, sitting in on client consultations, and getting myself familiarized with all the issues facing domestic workers in Hong Kong (spoiler: a fuck ton). I’m not gonna sugar coat it and say that it was a ton of fun at first because I felt like I wasn’t doing enough and that I was always asking for more work to do (things have changed since then; I’ll be blogging more about it I promise!!!).
I’d always followed and known about the major issues that all the UN/Justice Center/other various NGO reports talk about (debt bondage, living conditions, physical and sexual abuse etc.), but dealing with actual cases that concerned real people raised the stakes and made me really angry about all the injustice. I won’t go into a detailed summary and lay all the issues out because that’s not the point of this post and I feel like it would just be me talking to air, but I am going to put down some facts that really shook me so here goes.
1. The minimum wage for Hong Kong domestic workers is $4310. That’s $143.67/day, and the average domestic worker works 12 hour/day so that’s $11.9/hour (1.53 USD). Hong Kong’s minimum wage is $34.5/hour but that apparently doesn’t apply to domestic workers yippee
2. Also, there is no maximum number of hours a domestic worker can work—it isn’t in the employment contract or Employment Ordinance and I’ve seen cases where they have to work for 21 hours and there isn’t even anything we can do about it because it isn’t illegal and they still get paid the same $4310 a month.
3. Unrelated to domestic workers, HK’s minimum wage is so fucking low like I knew it was low and I knew our income inequality was disgusting but I don’t think I realized that we’re literally the 9th most inequal country in the world look at this:
Our minimum wage is 4.43 USD an hour and a domestic worker’s minimum wage is 1.53 USD/hour…. and then think about how high our fucking cost of living is this really shook me. We dealt with a case where a domestic worker was brought to work in the US for a month and was therefore supposed to be paid the US minimum wage. The employer didn’t, so the total amount the client was claiming for exceeded $100,000 HKD (for only a few months of working in the US!!!!). The employer then tricked the client into signing a final settlement saying that she would only pay $10,000.
4. Which brings me to my fourth point: how manipulative and exploitative some employers are. I really don’t know how people can stoop so low as to treat domestic workers like crap?? Stanford prisoner experiment maybe and having so much power they abuse it? But really tho can u imagine someone being so pathetic they have to abuse their power and purposely make another person’s life miserable just because they can and it strokes their ego??? And then they get away with it and nothing bad happens to them.
5. How unfair the Hong Kong justice system can be. I went with a client who was accused of theft to meet with a duty lawyer, and he told her ‘yeah the magistrate for this court is a Chinese woman so it’s likely that she will side with the employer be prepared’ and like????? This didn’t just happen with one client it happened with multiple and it seems so standard and accepted that a judge will make her decision based on her biases and domestic workers lose a lot of cases because of the prejudice towards them and lower social standing they carry. The client I accompanied was accused of stealing some items worth an exorbitant total of $300 HKD because the employer wanted to avoid paying long service pay (domestic workers are entitled to long service pay if they’ve been working for 5 years, but not if they are dismissed because of misconduct). Almost all of the cases regarding theft that I’ve seen are because the employers want to get out of paying domestic workers’ termination entitlements and then accuse them of stealing or child neglect or something along those lines which really fucks their lives up because then they have a criminal record and can no longer find new employment and they have to pay fines they can’t afford and a lot of times they even go to prison.
6. How overly bureaucratic the Hong Kong justice system is. One client got 3 weeks in prison for stealing a $20 bill. And I haven’t personally dealt with this case but apparently a domestic worker threw away a cap from a candy tube holder and was accused of stealing and got sent to prison too. There are human traffickers and illegal employment agency-operators walking free but people in prison for being *accused* of stealing something as little as $20 give me a fuckin break
7. This is kinda similar to my 4th fact but also how petty some employers are? For most of the cases we deal with, the domestic workers are only claiming about $8,000 HKD on average—which is quite a lot for a domestic worker considering their monthly salary is $4000—but employers insist on not paying and taking the case to trial even though $8000 is nothing to them they just don’t want to give in because of their pride oh my fucking god this post is making me angrier and angrier……………..,,..,
8. Hong Kong laws regarding domestic workers: the 2-week law, the you’re not allowed to find a new employer while you’re pursuing a labour tribunal case law, the no regulations for employers of domestic workers thing, the live-in rule, the minimum wage, quite ceebs by this point to elaborate & explain maybe I’ll update this post l8ter in the morning but also doubt anyone read up to this point im definitely not done ranting but im done explaining so i’ll save my rants for another post i think
also stay tuned for more posts regarding my internship experience because there r gonna be a lot i love work so much i wish i’d blogged earlier so you could see the progression from ‘work is eh’ to ‘i fucking love work’ but yeah there u go for now bye
P.S. not tryna generalize i know some employers can be nice im just saying some can be v mean pls don’t roast me. also i don’t want this post to come across as me victimizing domestic workers i think they are so amazing for choosing to come here to Hong Kong to make a better life for themselves and their families @ home and it really is such a huge step to move to a very different and very unfamiliar country to work in and i am so in awe of how strong and brave and adaptive and smart these domestic workers are ❤