2020年3月8日 8 March 2020
“Solidarity for Women Rights and Dignity: Fight the COVID-19 threats and Government Neglect!”
The COVID-19 highlights the vulnerabilities of women, particularly grassroots and migrant women, in Hong Kong. On this historical day, local and migrants in Hong Kong call for recognition that we are essential members of society and should not be treated as secondary or third class citizens. Women should enjoy equal rights and opportunities. In particular, care work should be legally recognized and should receive equal protections.
Hong Kong’s 7.5 million populations are 54% women and more than half are working. However, 2018 figures show 1.4 million are living below poverty line – a 10-year high. As people in Hong Kong are victims of neoliberal policies and workers are subjected into flexible labour policies adopted by the government, working women are double burdened, both in the workplace and in the households. Families with sufficient financial capacities have to hire and rely on the live-in migrant domestic workers to take care of the family members – particularly children and elderly – and to perform domestic duties.
Aside from being cheap labour with no social protection and job security, women are also expected to take care of their families and attend to household duties. Such arrangement makes working women unable to get the labour protections and benefits of full-time workers, which they are excluded from because of the “4.1.18” rule of Labour Ordinance. The widespread casual employment among working women leads to their low median monthly wages and causes them to be deprived of entitlements such as paid leave, sick leave, dismissal allowance, holiday allowance, labor insurance, and MPF. The part-time and casualized women workers are often terminated first at times of financial crisis – like now when the COVID-19 is threatening.
Non-recognition of their contributions, low wages, lack of labour protections and insecure employment lead to the marginalization and vulnerability of the grassroots women– to labour abuse as well as domestic abuse, sexual harassment and worsening poverty.
To cope with labour shortages, the Hong Kong government recruited cheaper workers (men and women) from poorer neighboring countries through the Labour Importation Scheme. It includes domestic workers, construction workers, entertainers, and so forth. Currently, Hong Kong is a host for nearly a million ethnic minorities including almost 400,000 Migrant Domestic Workers. The migrant workers, whom mostly are women, are forced to leave their home countries due to impoverishment and displacement caused by the same neoliberal policies of their respective countries.
Ironically, despite the significant contribution of migrant workers to Hong Kong economy’s development in the past decades, they are treated as invisible people. They have no political rights; they are deprived of the right to apply for right of abode (permanent residency), and thus also may not vote nor be eligible for many social services. They are left in a great vacuum of rights to political participation and social benefits.
Migrant Domestic Workers suffer the worst as they are exempted from the government’s programs and socially excluded through various unjust policies of Hong Kong Government. It has criminalized those who allow workers to live outside the employer’s home; it has excluded migrant domestic workers from the (hourly) Statutory Minimum Wage and implemented only a flat monthly Minimum Allowable Wage, set in a transparent and arbitrary manner by the Labour Department; and refused to regulate standard working hours, humane accommodation, and food. Further discriminatory visa policies include the Two-Week Rule which is not applied to other foreign workers carrying Hong Kong visas; and the ban on Nepalese workers since 2005. Thus, the working and living conditions of MDWs is tantamount to modern day slavery—long working hours, deprivation of rights, health deterioration, increasing number of human trafficking cases to HK and other countries, and many others are among common issues of MDWs.
移民家務工所承受的困難最為嚴重，她們因政府不公義的政策而被社會性排斥。它立例刑事化禁止容許移工不在僱主家中居住的人士、它排斥了移工於「法定最低工資」的保障之外，只訂立了一個不透明及只由勞工處在無清晰準則下隨意檢討增減的「最低可接受工資」它拒絕立法規管標準工時，人道住宿條件及饍食供應。更有甚者，歧視性的簽證政策中的「兩星期逗留條件」並不適用於其他以工作簽證待外藉人士、以至自2005年起針對尼泊爾移工的拒絕簽證禁令。因此，移工的工作條件及生活狀況就等同於現代奴役 － 過長工時、權利被剝奪、因壓力而惡化的健康、持續增升的人口販賣到香港及其他國家的個案，以至其他許多問題都是移工們會遇到的難題。
Hong Kong government also fails to address the systematic risks of sexual abuse and violence experienced by women. There were 1,077 cases of sexual assault reported to police in 2017 – but a 2013 study by the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition on Equal Opportunities revealed that 90% of women who had been sexually assaulted chose not to report the incident. Factors such as social stigma, trauma, fear of retribution and lack of access to information and services, all play roles in discouraging women survivors from seeking help.
香港政府亦沒有去處理，婦女們面對著的系統性性本侵犯及暴力的危險。在2017年，警方接報的性侵犯個案有1,077宗 － 但平等機會婦女聯席於2013年的調查研究顯示，90%被性侵犯的婦女會選擇不會就事件報警。社會污名、創傷、恐懼因而被報復、及缺乏易所獲得的資訊及服務，這些因素都在發揮作用，妨礙著或使她們打消尋求協助。
Since the COVID-19 started, grassroots women have been heavily affected in terms of increased fears regarding their health due to high cost and scarce supply of health equipment like masks, as well as due to necessary care for sick people in the household; increased cleaning responsibility at home and (for cleaners) at work; increased care work at home for children who are unable to attend school; increased exposure to damaging chemicals used for anti-virus hygiene; and – as common in economic crises – threats of wage cuts and layoffs. Migrant Domestic Workers are singled out and treated discriminately by indirectly banning their right to enjoy the rest day outside their employer’s houses.
The HK government has sharpened social discrimination and exploitative practices by encouraging employers to keep their workers in the home on rest days; and by distributing economic alleviation measures to HK citizens only based on permanent residency status, rather than actual care and labour contributed in Hong Kong towards the economy as well as towards fighting together against the COVID-19.
In light of the ongoing severe discrimination against grassroots working women including migrant domestic workers, we collectively demand:
1. The HK government should address the root cause of poverty; implement significant measures to alleviate poverty which do not exclude migrant domestic workers.
2. Implement a living wage for all; review the statutory minimum wage and extend the labour policy to protect part-time and casual workers.
3. Recognize home carers by providing social protection and accessible and sufficient public services for all people of Hong Kong
4. Protect women and girls; provide access to information and services to end all forms of violence against women and girls.
5. Recognize domestic work as work; scrap all discriminatory policies against migrants; establish a migrants’ committee and; set up regular consultations with the migrants’ unions.
We will continue our collective effort to fight social exclusion and against government neglect for protection in midst of COVID-19 threats. Hands joined, we will:
1. Launch surveys among both local and migrants on the impacts of COVID-19 and hold press conferences to raise the particularities of different labour sectors;
2. Actively engage the HK government to act on our concerns about high costs of living, and low minimum wages; and
3. Campaign for a living wage and for the HK government to secure the equal protection of women to men, and the protection of all carers.
This year’s theme, “Solidarity for Women Rights and Dignity: Fight the COVID-19 threats and Government Neglect!” encompasses our fight against modern-day slavery, exploitation and social exclusion perpetuated by neoliberal globalization. It is jointly organized by Hong Kong Women Workers’ Association, Gabriela Hong Kong, International Migrants Alliance –Hong Kong & Macau, Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, Women’s Festival Hong Kong, migrant solidarity committee from autonomous 8a, Association for the Advancement of Feminism, Reel Women Hong Kong & Migrants Pride committee.
今年的主題，『連結共行爭取婦女權利及尊嚴：直面冠狀病毒威脅，直指政府不作為，奮起抗爭！』包含著我們的連合抗爭，我們抵抗因新自由主義全球一體化而起的現代奴役、剝削及社會性排斥。這活動由香港婦女勞工協會，Gabriela – Hong Kong (菲律賓婦女組織香港分會)，國際移民聯盟 － 香港及澳門分部，亞洲移住人士聯盟，女人節香港，移工共行委員會 － 自治八樓，新婦女協進會，女影香港，移工驕傲遊行籌備委員會。