HelperChoice: Average domestic workers’ salary in Hong Kong maintains positive trend for the past four years

For the fourth consecutive year, HelperChoice’s annual salary survey in Hong Kong shows an encouraging trend in the average salary offered by employers. For the first time in history, the average salary of foreign domestic workers exceeds HK$5,000.

According to HelperChoice data, this year, foreign domestic workers have been earning HK$5,012 on average, equalling a 1.35% increase compared to the previous study in 2019, and a 14% increase since 2016.

Despite the slight increase of 1.35% of the average salary, the platform highlights that the increase rate is slower this year than during the previous ones (+3.05% between 2018 and 2019). 

Regarding the districts, HelperChoice identifies clear disparities in the domestic helpers’ salaries according to their employment location. Following the trends of their previous years’ observations, families living in areas considered as more wealthy offer a higher salary to their helpers.

In 2020, the top five Hong Kong districts with the highest wages are: the Wanchai, Southern, North, Central & Western and Sai Kung. Foreign domestic workers in these districts might expect an average salary of HK$5,257 in these areas, with several employers offering up to HK$10,000 per month. 

While the Outlying Islands are absent from the highest paid districts this year, surprisingly, North district enters in the Top 5 districts’ with the highest paid salary for foreign domestic helpers, with an average salary of, that is to say a 8.7% increase compared to 2019. 

On the other hand, the five districts offering the lowest salaries this year are: Kwun Tong, Sha Tin, Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin and Kwai Tsing. Employers in these areas offer an average salary of HK$4,726, which is only HK$96 above the Minimum Allowable Salary (MAW) at the time of HK$4,630. 

Despite this encouraging trend, the average salary offered, HK$5,012, does not yet meet the average salary expected by foreign domestic workers. According to HelperChoice data, on average, domestic helpers request a salary of HK$5,259, that is to say HK$247 more than what employers offer at the moment. 

If we go back in time, we can observe that the Minimum Allowable Salary (MAW) increases, on average, by 2.4% every year and follows the Consumer Price Index (CPI) trend, which evolves at an average rate of 2% each year (but suffered a 0.4% decrease between 2020 and 2019).

Covid-19 has unfortunately deeply impacted a lot of Filipino overseas workers, including domestic workers. It is estimated that so far more than 345,000 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) have lost their jobs worldwide, and many more struggle to find a new position abroad due to travel bans. A huge loss for the Philippines citizens and Economy as a whole, as around 10% of the Philippines’ GDP relies on OFWs remittances. 

While the Hong Kong government provided help to most residents, including HK$10,000 to all permanent residents under the Cash Payout Scheme, it was decided to not raise the minimum allowable wage of foreign domestic workers this year. 

This decision stresses even more the financial burden, as well as the difference in status and working conditions made between foreign domestic workers and other workers in the city. Despite representing 400,000 people in the Hong Kong working force, foreign domestic workers are the only workers who cannot access permanent residency in Hong Kong after 7 years of employment in the city. 

In 2020, the HelperChoice registered a 6% increase in foreign domestic workers looking for a new job due to termination of their previous contract, mostly because of their employer’s relocation. 

“This situation is increasing the dependence of Filipino families to foreign domestic workers still employed, or already abroad and looking for a new job. It is even more important to help foreign domestic workers who are currently in Hong Kong finishing their contracts or the ones who have seen their contracts being terminated (mostly due to financial reasons or relocations of their employer) to find another position before they have to go back to the Philippines unemployed.” Mahee Leclerc, Managing Director of HelperChoice said.

To face this, HelperChoice has set a new process in 2020 for all foreign domestic workers looking for a job, who are already in Hong Kong, helping them improve their CVs in order to find a new employer as quickly as possible. 

Apart from the increase in contracts’ terminations, most of the domestic workers surveyed by HelperChoice mentioned deterioration of their working conditions: 

A majority denouncing an increase in the workload (31%), and longer working hours (25%). Unfortunately, due to the difficult social and economic situation, 21% of the domestic workers surveyed also mention being in constant fear of termination of their contract, affecting their mental well-being. 

With the implementation of social distancing amid Covid-19, HelperChoice witnessed a strong increase of its traffic, increasing by 150% new users between late March and early April. 

Hong Kong residents have been limiting unnecessary travels as much as possible during the peak of the epidemic, most of them working from home, so it’s only logical that they switched to an online solution to hire their domestic helper instead of going to an agency. 

HelperChoice has the largest database of finished contracts domestic helpers in the city, and these contract statuses are the easiest to hire in the current situation. 

“This phenomenon is not a temporary trend, but more like a structural change in the industry. After months of political unrest and now, sanitary crisis, Hong Kongers and foreign domestic workers, who were favouring traditional employment agencies before, are now turning to online services for good,” Leclerc added.

In Hong Kong it is mandatory for domestic helpers to live with their employers. Considering the housing costs in Hong Kong, this has of course a huge impact on the domestic helpers’ budget and the money they can save or send back home. 

However, the comfort of the living arrangements plays a significant part in domestic workers’ working conditions. 20% of the domestic workers surveyed would prefer to live-out, and 75% to have a private room. Earlier this month, a domestic helper lost a Court of Appeal challenging the ‘live-in’ rule in the city, saying tat the live-in requirement was part of the wider systemic discrimination faced by foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. 

As the employers can specify the type of accommodation they offer to their domestic workers, HelperChoice also investigated which types of living arrangements are the most common. The survey exposed that a large majority (66%) of job offers included a private room, whereas 22% offered a room shared with a child, 9% a room shared with another domestic worker and 3% a room shared with an adult. It is important to note that domestic helpers cannot sleep in the same room as another adult of the opposite sex. 

 

DOLE to submit 13th month pay subsidy plan for distressed small businesses

Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III bared that the government might spend P5 billion to P13 billion if it will proceed in subsidizing the 13th month pay of workers in small firms affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

P13.7 billion is the exact estimate but the amount still depends on which data would be recognized since the DOLE and the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) have different lists of small firms, according to Bello.

The DOLE is yet to propose the plan to the Office of the President and the Office of the Executive Secretary, but already presented it to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID). Bello, however, didn’t disclose the task force’s decision.

If the subsidy will push, the DOLE chief said that small firms needing cash assistance must apply for it and prove that they are classified as micro- and small businesses that are distressed by the economic impact of the pandemic.

Another plan with regard to avoiding the deferment of the 13th month pay is for government banks to offer loans to companies.

The agency earlier announced that it was looking into allowing SMES to put off temporarily the disbursement of 13th month pay of employees, but netizens were quick to react negatively, citing that the pay is mandated by the law.

China eyes to ‘work together’ with PH in energy projects in West Philippine Sea

As if right on cue, China has expressed its interest to ‘work together’ with the Philippines in developing energy projects in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian’s statement came following the Duterte administration’s decision to lift the six-year-old moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the WPS, paving the way for the resumption of three projects, including a joint venture with China.

“China and the Philippines have reached consensus on the joint development of oil and gas resources in the South China Sea and have established a cooperation mechanism for relevant consultations,” said Zhao.

“I hope and believe that the two sides will meet each other halfway, promote joint development, and continue to make positive progress,” he added.

Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Alfonso Cusi said that he is confident that Philippine companies will not be obstructed with projects with China since “it follows that we can do our activity freely as the country that has economic rights” over the WPS.

China, however, has since ignored and neglected international laws that recognize that the WPS is rightfully owned by the Philippines.

Beijing has been aggressively and illegally claiming territories and islands in the WPS that are supposedly within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

China’s illegal island-building and reef reclamation in the WPS has also significantly resulted in the destruction of marine life in the area, affecting the livelihood of Filipino fishermen.

Among the projects involved in the gas and oil exploration in the WPS is that of Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy’s Udenna Corporation, who also owns DITO Telecommunity, the country’s third telco player marred with controversy over its 40-percent Chinese ownership.