Employers are reliant on domestic helpers in Hong Kong, and many agents facilitate the routine dependence on migrant labor. Helpers are expected to complete everyday tasks, which means that domestic labor is always in demand. Employers take help of agencies to screen workers and match them according to the needs.
However the industry is known to be exploitative and agents are usually castigated as extractive, preying on vulnerable migrants or bamboozling employers to get more money.
Domestic helpers have their share of risky tasks too that make their job challenging. They are sometimes instructed to clean external glass windows from different precarious positions, especially in high-rise residential buildings. Even if they receive training and orientation about their rights and duties, domestic workers are forced to follow an employer’s orders. Not all employers are good-natured and some do take advantage of their helpers.
Here are some risky tasks that many domestic helpers are assigned regularly:
1. Lifting of heavy things
Domestic workers from the Philippines and other countries are sometimes forced to carry heavy items including huge appliances and even some elderly residents too. This is a back-breaking job that needs strength and stamina for a long period of time. This task can cause back pains and other illnesses, helpers, if they have to complete such chores from time to time. Additionally, some employers get heavy stuff from their workplace, which might not be a domestic helper’s job but they are forced to do it, come what may.
2. Work at employer’s businesses
As I was stating in the earlier point, employers deem domestic helpers to be their slaves sometimes, which means that there is no clear demarcation of routine chores and duties. The helpers who are meek by nature and easily cajoled into doing extra tasks are seldom used as helpers for their official business work. The helpers agree to work wherever the employer tells them. Not many workers are aware that working outside a defined address is a breach of employment contract. Under Hong Kong’s laws, this can be regarded as an offense, but there are not many domestic workers who give it up or complain. They are sometimes given multiple responsibilities other than the domestic tasks including that of the cashier, storekeeper, worker and the like. This offense is punishable by fine or jail by the government, for both the employer and employee, but this goes on.
3. Care for pets
Pets are usually easy to deal with. But although domestic helpers are assigned tasks to care for family members, they are also assigned the responsibility to take care of their pets. Pets can be a handful for the helpers who might contract bacteria and even some allergies taking care of the pets in the first place. Some pets fail to recognize outsiders as family members, and may actually exhibit violent behavior, biting and scratching the helpers in retaliation. Helpers always run the risk of being attacked inadvertently as some pets might even threaten their well-being to a large extent.
4. Work with little sleep and less food
Sleep is a routine that all humans need to do everyday. But sometimes employers assign extra tasks to helpers daily so much so that they do not get ample rest or sleep during nights. The daily tasks might turn out to be disproportionate and employers might get the helpers to overwork without breaks. Sleep deprivation can lead to higher risk of health problems. It is essential for the well-being of the helpers that they get ample food and sleep on a regular basis.
5. Work at employer’s relatives
Sometimes when employers go on vacation, they assign their helpers to work for their friends or relatives, so that they do not have a break on daily chores. They might be expected to look after pets, elders, and kids, while also cleaning the car or even tend to plants. This switch to a different address or different home is not permitted under the rules. The law does not allow employers to assign helpers to work with other families and homes especially when they are under a contract.
6. Extra chores related to electrical fittings and appliance repairs
Employers sometimes use the days off for extra chores rather than rest and recreation for helpers. Some domestic helpers are known to use the free day to make some more money, but it is an off day for their rest. The gamble could backfire if the authorities are told about this. But it is the right of the helpers to take a day off in a week. Employers though sometimes assign some risky electrical tasks and repair work to helpers, so that they can get their things in order. Helpers mostly have no idea about the task, and this can become risky as any short circuit can even lead to a mishap.
The bottom line
Employers force helpers to do some risky tasks since some deem them to be do-it-all slaves. It is essential that maids and domestic helpers know their rights and avoids doing the risky tasks assigned to them by their employers.