Migrant Workers in Hong Kong

[by the Asia Migrants Coordinating Body]

Yesterday, migrant workers made their mark on the history of Hong Kong.

A rally organized by the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body was joined by 12,000 people who marched through the busy streets of Causeway Bay to the Central Government Offices (CGO), approximately a 10km stretch. It was the biggest protest march in the history of migrant movement in Hong Kong and probably in the whole world.

Foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal and Sri Lanka made up the majority of the protesters while some professionals, business people, religious leaders, employers of FDHs and local trade unions and labour groups marched side by side with one main call: “NO TO WAGE CUT, NO TO LEVY!”.

The protest action aims to pressure the Hong Kong government not to impose pay cut or tax levy to the foreign domestic helpers. The HKSAR government is expected to announce its decision on March 5 during the budget speech of the Finance Secretary. In behalf of all the participating groups and nationalities in this campaign, we wish to extend our appreciation to all the support you have given us and we hope that you will continue to do so.

Below is the statement issued at the rally:


We heed the call to defend our wage and our livelihood. This day will be marked with the biggest rally of Asian migrants in the history of our struggle for our rights in Hong Kong.

Since we started our fight against the various proposals to impose a wage cut in the form of a levy on us foreign domestic maids, our efforts are already bearing fruit.

The absence of an announcement on the outcome of the annual Minimum Allowable Wage review, traditionally done on the first month of each year, is already a clear victory for our campaign. This victory was brought by the thousands of Asian migrants who took to the streets and firmly registered their position –“No to levy! No to wage cut!”

The latest package being peddled by the Hong Kong government- which is to charge HK$9,600 supposedly to employers but in reality is shouldered by foreign maids through a HK$400 monthly wage cut- also met our swift resistance. We saw through this deception of indirectly taxing the migrant workers. We exposed the impacts of such a scheme to our compatriots and to the local people of Hong Kong. We never hesitated and we never faltered in our response.

However, we must remain on guard.

On March 5, the Hong Kong Finance Secretary is set to deliver his budget speech. It is expected that it will outline a comprehensive financial policy of the Hong Kong government. Reports have said that they are considering a 5% (HK$183) cut on our minimum wage.

Aside from this wage cut, the threat of a levy still looms above our heads. Though battles have been won, the war on our wage remains to be decided. Even if the latest proposal has not yet been approved, our experiences have shown how determined the Hong Kong government is to resolve its budget deficit at the expense of one of the poorest sectors in Hong Kong.

The coming budget speech may be the bringer of social justice or the bringer of death to us.

A no wage cut and no levy announcement in the speech will surely be a resounding success for Foreign Domestic Helpers. Our committed actions will have won the reprieve that we and our families very much need in this time of economic crisis. This victory will be another landmark for the migrants’ movement. It will show, for the second time in a row, how the organized actions of migrant workers can be the only true weapon that we can use to defend our rights and our wellbeing.

We shall then build on the gains that we have earned and make it an indestructible shield against the continuous attacks of the Hong Kong government on our rights, job security, and livelihood.

However, the possibility that the Hong Kong government will instead cut our wages or impose a levy on us also exists.

The government may push through with any of the standing proposals and once again show its ruthless and unjust treatment to migrant workers. Or it may even lower the cut to our wage or the amount to be taxed on us in order to appear lenient and sympathetic to the plight of foreign maids.

We must not let ourselves be deceived! Any form of a levy or any amount of a wage cut to those who are already struggling to make ends meet is cruelty at its height. Any impingement to our rights is unjust.

If this should happen, let our action today warn the Hong Kong government on what they will face if they decide to inflict the “pain” that they are gearing to do so to migrant workers. Let the thousands of migrant workers, advocates and local supporters deliver the strongest opposition to the moves of the Hong Kong government to bring to slavery the conditions of FDHs.

We shall persevere and defeat the pay cut or the tax that will be charged on us. If the government pursues this course of action, we will utilize the legal system of Hong Kong to challenge its legality and legitimacy. Even the international community will know of the government’s barbarism as we are prepared to take such a discriminatory policy to regional and international agencies and institutions. “Asia’s World City” may very well be Asia’s shame.

We shall urge our own governments to intensify their diplomatic efforts to reverse the decision. The past four months have shown how our widespread indignation has pushed our national governments to take actions.

We shall continue to build our solidarity with the local people and gather their support to our cause. The malicious efforts of the Hong Kong government to create a rift among us and our local counterparts have been futile. We have shown that we shall never allow ourselves to be made as scapegoats for the government’s failures. We shall continue to unite with the local working community who are also being forced to “make sacrifices” and to “bear the pain” of the economic slide.

Most importantly, our wave of protests will not cease. Our rally today will be repeated. In increasing numbers, we will fight the decision every step of the way until it is defeated.

The Hong Kong government has only two options on this issue – either to cut our wage through a levy or other means, or give our wage a one year reprieve. It may happen on March 5 or it may not.

As long as no categorical declaration is made, the future of our wage remains in a precarious balance. A calm sea may very well be a prelude to a storm.

We must never cease from monitoring the developments of the levy proposals within the Hong Kong government. We must not let our defenses down. Instead, we must continue to fortify our ranks and be always ready for whatever deadly “package” is hurled upon us by the Hong Kong government. Whatever the Hong Kong government may decide, the future of our wages and livelihood rests upon us.

The call to act shall remain. And we shall continue to respond, with vigor and determination, until the attacks of the Hong Kong government on migrant workers come to an end.

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