As Covid-19 cases are rapidly spreading in Hong Kong, some domestic helpers who got infected by the virus found themselves living on the streets and felt abandoned by their employers.
Some were given medicines and thick blankets by the families they work for but were told to find a shelter or stay outside, on the cold streets. Others were fired.
“I was depressed, hopeless, and anxious because I am in a foreign country,” said one helper who declined to be identified.
“All I was thinking about was where to get food and where to find a place to stay because it was very cold outside,” another woman said, who has been working as a helper in Hong Kong since 2005.
A Filipina who is experiencing the traumatizing situation wished to go back to the Philippines as soon as possible. She has been working in Hong Kong for four years.
Hong Kong, a global financial hub, has around 340,000 domestic helpers mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia. Many families in Hong Kong depend on helpers, whose salary is around HK$4,630 (US$593) per month, for housekeeping and to look after their elderly and children. But Covid-19 pushed these families to make a very tough decision against the people who take care of them for fear of getting infected by Covid.
Under Hong Kong law, employers are required to give shelter to their migrant domestic helpers. Often, these helpers are living in narrow rooms or sharing space with the children they care for.
The Philippine authorities had already appealed to the Chinese-ruled city to safeguard and support the welfare of the Filipino helpers who got Covid, especially those who were fired or forced to stay outside their homes.
South China Morning Post reported that “the number of domestic helpers needing immediate help with home quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 has ballooned from a handful to nearly 70 in less than a week”.
The government of Hong Kong gave a stern warning to the employers saying that it is an offense to fire helpers due to getting Covid, reminding them that a fine of up to HK$100,000 awaits the violators.
Reuters reported that Hong Kong’s Labour Department will fully investigate the matter, and also appealed to the employers:
“The government appeals to the employers to be compassionate and consider granting…(helpers) paid sick leave,… employers should also provide free and suitable accommodation as well as free medical treatment”.
HELP for Domestic Workers, a non-governmental organization, is now taking care of the helpers. They provide shelter and basic supplies to those in need.
“At the moment, the supply is not keeping up with the demand. And given that there are so many mandatory testing notices, so many people that are testing positive, we are unable to find isolation facilities for everybody,” said Manisha Wijesinghe, executive director of HELP for Domestic Workers.