The average salary for domestic workers in Hong Kong has exceeded HK$5,000 (US$645) per month for the first time ever, but many are facing financial pressures amid the Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn.
Salaries for helpers have reached HK$5,012 per month on average, about 8 per cent higher than the statutory minimum of HK$4,630 for domestic workers, according to HelperChoice, which studied the data of more than 10,000 job postings on its online platform over the past 12 months.
Mahee Leclerc, managing director of HelperChoice, explained that some helpers working in the city asked for more pay, knowing that pandemic travel restrictions made it hard for employers to hire first-time domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia.
However, Covid-19 had also worsened the financial burden on helpers, who were often the breadwinners for families now even more dependent on them, as the health crisis hit economies around the globe, she said.
“Domestic helpers really have had a hard time during Covid-19,” Leclerc said. “We’ve seen a lot of contracts getting terminated.”
The free online platform saw a 6 per cent increase – to 515 – in domestic workers looking for new jobs during the pandemic.
Last month, the government announced that the city’s 370,000 helpers would not receive a pay rise in the coming year, partly because of the economic slump caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As such, their minimum wage remained at HK$4,630 a month, plus a monthly allowance of HK$1,121 for those whose employers do not provide them with food.
The government reviews the pay of domestic workers annually. Last year, they received a 2.4 per cent pay rise, and in 2018, a 2.5 per cent increase.
Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, of Mission for Migrant Workers, said the increase in wages did not keep up with Hong Kong’s rising living costs.
“There’s also increased pressure on domestic workers to send money home, because lots of people have lost their jobs due to the lockdowns in the Philippines and Indonesia,” she said.
However, Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, which represents more than 1,000 employers, said her members were facing difficulty too.
At least half her members had to go on extended furloughs during the pandemic and could no longer afford to hire domestic workers. Some were considering reducing their helpers’ pay by 10 per cent.
“Not all employers of domestic workers are wealthy,” she said. “Some hire helpers to take care of elderly parents or people with disabilities, which means the families have added medical expenses too,” she said.
Although she agreed that employers must pay the minimum wage set by the government, she felt the rate of increase might slow down as the economy continued to suffer.