Thousands of Hong Kong’s foreign domestic workers continue to sleep in appalling conditions leaving them vulnerable to abuse, according to activists, who lament that the government continues to turn a “blind eye” to the problem.
In early 2014, the torture of Indonesian domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih by her employer Law Wan-tung was exposed.
The helper was constantly beaten and lived in appalling conditions, including being forced to sleep on the floor.
More than three years on, the latest study by concern group Mission for Migrant Workers suggests that up to three in every 10 of Hong Kong’s 330,000 foreign domestic workers are made to sleep in storerooms, balconies, kitchens and even toilets, while the rest are offered only shared bedrooms, often with their employers’ children.
This week, a Post reporter spent a night in a similarly cramped spaced in an attempt to understand and highlight the poor living conditions domestic helpers face after a hard day’s work.
Holly Allan, director of campaign group HELP for Domestic Workers said such an experiment could help more Hongkongers understand the plight of these workers.
“I think it is a very useful thing to do,” she said. “Everyone should do it – everyone should put themselves in the shoes of these foreign domestic workers. There has not been much progress in terms of accommodation since the Erwiana case.”
Allan added that Hong Kong’s live-in rule for foreign domestic workers was resulting in many of them being forced to endure inhumane living conditions and leaving them more vulnerable to abuse.
She said the trend towards increasingly small flats meant families were facing more and more challenging living conditions, but this did not excuse forcing foreign domestic workers to live in tiny spaces.
Allan repeated calls for the government to abolish the law and give workers the freedom to choose where they lived, even if some did eventually decide that their employer’s home was more comfortable than renting privately.
“[This situation] cannot be improved if the live-in law is still in place,” she said.
“A lot of them complain they are tired because they cannot sleep well in these places. I hear of them sleeping in bathtubs, next to toilets and on the kitchen floor.
“This situation manifests itself later when the employer might complain the worker has forgotten something or made a mistake. It is not safe, particularly if they are looking after children.”
Read more: SCMP