October 3rd, 2011
04:12 AM GMT
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Hong Kong (CNN) – An estimated 292,000 foreign maids live and work in this metropolis of more than 7 million people.  Most hail from the Philippines or Indonesia, work long six-day weeks from Monday to Saturday and many retire each night to the cramped rooms allotted to them in their own employers’ homes.

But on Sundays they break free.

On their one day off, and having few, cheap places to socialize in this dense urban jungle, they flock to the open and free spaces of Hong Kong’s downtown Central district – its parks, sidewalks and benches – and set up camp for the day.

Here they unfold their makeshift mats of brown cardboard boxes or newspaper. They laugh aloud as they eat their homemade noodles or stews. They dance in groups to the latest pop music. They catch up on the latest gossip with friends.

And this past Sunday, you could be sure they were all talking about the same thing.

In an unexpected verdict on September 30, Hong Kong’s High Court struck down a law that had banned all foreign domestic workers – largely considered second-class residents – from applying for permanent residency, or PR.

That pro-migrant ruling surprised most everyone – plaintiffs and defendants alike.  The historic decision now means 40% of Hong Kong’s maids, about 117,000 of them, could soon be eligible to apply to live here for the rest of their lives.

Evangeline Barrao Vallejos, a foreign maid from the Philippines, is the person at the center of this landmark case. Were she some other kind of foreign worker – say in finance, education or journalism – she could have applied for residency after seven years. She’s been working in Hong Kong for 25 years.

Following the verdict – and even as her case unfolded – Vallejos chose to stay as low-profile as possible. She was not present at Friday’s ruling. But labor rights groups have openly welcomed the ruling.

Tim de Meyer, senior specialist at the International Labor Organization, explained that Hong Kong’s economy would stand to benefit.

"The introduction of lower skilled workers to do domestic tasks frees up higher skilled workers, increasingly women, who contribute more to the local economy. And, as in any employment sector, increasing staff turnover is never good for productivity."

Hong Kong’s pro-migrant groups cheered too. Spokespeople for the city’s Asian Migrants Coordinating Body and the Filipino Migrant Workers expressed their surprise and satisfaction at the ruling, adding that celebrations were planned.

But not everyone was ecstatic.

Ambrose Lee, Hong Kong’s Secretary of Security, announced shortly after the verdict that the government would appeal. A decision is expected October 26. In the meantime, he added, the review of all applications from domestic foreign workers seeking residency status would be suspended.

At the same time, critics continue to cite this socio-economic doomsday scenario: current Hong Kong taxpayers would be hit with more than $3 billion in social welfare spending for up to half a million new immigrants, spouses and children.

But Mark Daly, Vallejos’ lawyer, told me these stats are exaggerations.

“There may be an agenda behind that but we like to stick to the law… I think those floodgates arguments are over-dramatized and don’t really hold water. “

Daly also believes his residency debate will be more a test of Hong Kong’s independent legal system – under the terms of the city’s handover to Beijing in 1997, Hong Kong will be run under “one-country, two-systems” that protects the regions independence.  He suggested Hong Kong’s leaders should not run to Beijing for backing.

“The benefit that Hong Kong has compared to other cities certainly on the mainland or in the region is its rule of law. If the government is going to be a sore loser and be like a drug addict looking for a quick fix going to Beijing because it feels good, in the long run it’s going to be bad for Hong Kong. “

As this benchmark case progresses, international and domestic labor organizations will be watching, as will the hundreds of thousands of domestic foreign workers around the world.

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soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Simon

    Hongkong Officials told the Word , Hongkong is an international city. Its means the city is full of various cultures.
    Today only those bankers, businessmen like one of Ocean Park, who had got a Pr. I.D Card and those jockeys with
    7 years with the clubs can easliy got a Pr.I.D card. Its seem thats Hongkong Government Officials accepted Western
    foreginers and turn aways those third countries Asians peoples.

    October 3, 2011 at 5:34 am |
  2. Lafite82

    I am not challenging HK court's ruling. I would however like to comment on one far reaching impact this huge influx of permanent residences (PR's) would have on HK's economy.

    As PR's, they are no longer bound by the HK$3740 per month salary currently payable to a domestic helper (on a helpers contract). Their right (as PR) to be paid the minimum wage (HK$28/hr x 10 hrs/day x 26 days) will mean a family will now have to pay a minimum of HK$7280 / month for their services. This will be tough for the lower and middle income families having to pay this huge additional cost in the face of a failing economy. As a result, a number of maids will find themselves unemployed.

    As PR's, the unemployed can apply for government assistance (hand out is probably a more correct term), which effectively places another financial burden on the government.

    It might be better for the government to start allowing mainland Chinese to come and work as maids. After all, they speak the language, work just as hard and they won't be asking for permanent residence.......

    October 3, 2011 at 6:57 am |
  3. Nikko

    @ Lafite82 – If you or they can not afford to pay $7280HKD, then they should clean their own house and watch their own kids. Dont get a maid if you cant afford them.

    October 3, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  4. Lafite82

    Spoken from the true mouth of a babe.....Nikko, if you don't understand how HK's economy work, then perhaps you should realize that domestic helpers are essential for most HK families because BOTH the husband and wife work.....

    October 3, 2011 at 8:14 am |
  5. James

    If i could get a maid the quality of the philippino maids here in the UK for three times the "high" number of $7280 HKD for even half the stated number of working days (13 x 10 hours) I and I'm sure many like me would jump on this opportunity.

    October 3, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  6. Ralph_New Zealand

    The maid working there are not only fighting for their residency but for the fair treatment of their chinese employers. The huge difference in MINIMUM WAGE is a clear exploitation of the third world country citizens which can be compared to the modern type of slavery.

    October 3, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  7. Lafite82

    Last time I checked a dictionary, "slavery" indicates " a condition of subjection or submission characterized by lack of freedom of action or of will.", yet these people are flocking to HK even though they know they are paid the domestic helper wage of HK$3740 per month. Why? because HK$3740 is much more than they can earn in their respective country, and it is a way out of their home countries. Nobody is holding them against their will, they are free to leave HK and work in other countries.

    So Ralph, on what basis are you claiming that domestic helpers are being mistreated by Chinese employers? Please enlighten us !

    October 3, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  8. twizzler

    I think there could be arguments of both sides, but i don't think think anyone can argue the hong kong has an unequal perception of domestic helpers compared to other foreign workers. This is where discrimination comes into play. I mean why would an average foreign worker be allowed to apply for permanent residence yet a domestic helper is not. If everything was equal then they both should of just been viewed as foreign workers.

    At the same time helpers that do apply for it need to understand there are risks of pricing yourself out of the game. If you price yourself to high most employers would probably seek new employees who don't have residency

    October 3, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  9. Ralph_New Zealand

    Just simply look around your neighbors or even in your own backyard....

    October 3, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  10. Craig

    ummmm yeah, philipinos won't take advantage of HK welfare will they? They never try to screw the system wherever they go right?

    October 3, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  11. Andy

    James..........."the quality of a philipino maid"? You mean complete lack of hygiene, a constant need to steal and total lack of respect for the country that is supporting them? That's quality by your definition? Anyone who allows a "person" like that in their home deserves the horror that they bring.

    October 3, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  12. Rebecca

    Ralph_New Zealand..........if they aren't happy with the salary then they wouldn't have taken the job would they? Market value is market value. You clearly have no idea what slavery actually is. The salary they make (which is always sent out of the country) is more than fair. Considering almost all are completely unskilled and uneducated, they should be happy anyone would even allow them near their house. Salaries for maids in HK will not go up because people who want a real maid will never hire a filipino and there will always be maids who will work off the books for a lower wage. Taking in another country's refuse always lowers the curve.

    October 3, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  13. Angela

    @Simon It's not about East or West, Asian or non-Asian......it's about skilled and unskilled. A skilled worker is very unlikely to take a handout or game the welfare system. UNSKILLED workers like "maids" have very low education (if any) and will stay and use the welfare system if given the chance. You only need to look at other countries to see what unskilled, poorly-educated workers have done. Bankers, lawyers etc are EDUCATED and usually ADD to society. These maids have the same value as the vacuum or mop that they use in their daily work. People are not equal. Some people are worth more than others. It may be an uncomfortable truth but it is a truth nonetheless.

    October 3, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  14. Ralph_New Zealand

    To follow-up – try reading some articles in the link below.
    http://www.christian-action-eng.org/domestic-helpers-hk

    October 3, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  15. Filipino

    Andy... how dare you generalise about Filipinos!

    October 3, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  16. Mandy

    ... Philippine maids are everywhere, and the demand for them have always been strong!!! the quality, honesty and dedication are some of the traits these filipino maids have ... i have a filipino maid and a white american maid, no way that i can compare these two – philippine maid are more hardworking!!! ... i am very pleased that this landmark court decision have favored housekeepers in hk ...

    October 3, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  17. John

    Lafite82 makes a good point about the minimum wage. On the other hand, the maids would be free to work part-time / free lance. But again, if I were a web designer, I am free to offer my services for a high or as low as I want (even pro bono). Why would a helper be required to demand a minimum wage?

    October 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  18. John

    " These maids have the same value as the vacuum or mop that they use in their daily work." I cannot believe someone would say such words.

    October 3, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  19. MSC_fan

    Any law of a country applies to everyone. That includes immigration laws. If a jockey who has been working in HK for 7 years, can get a PR, then why not a Filipina Domestic Worker get a PR as well? Otherwise, if the immigration laws only apply to certain citizens, then I think it is modern day discrimination. No one has the right to discriminate anyone regardless of race, color or religion, it is year 2011... the dark ages of slavery and persecution is long gone in the real world, but sadly exists in modern day HK.

    October 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  20. UnbelievableCommentary

    "These maids have the same value as the vacuum or mop that they use in their daily work."

    You will have to forgive we naive fools who think that all people are equal, deserve equal rights, and their value should not be determined by their ability to contribute to the global economy... Though, I have to disagree with your contention that your average banker contributes more to the economy than a typical vacuum. The financial industry, in general, is harmful to the economy.

    October 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  21. toilts

    FYI ,most of the filpino OFW working in Hong Kong are college graduates, teachers, nurses and and some of them are board passers. they work in hong kong to earn more money instead of being a teacher with low income.Bravo filipino.

    October 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  22. Oh that's right

    This Lafite character is hilarious. Because both parents work then it's suddenly necessary to hire a maid? Are you kidding me? Middle income families shouldn't be hiring maids to begin with. And there are millions of households around the world where both parents work and there's no need for any maids. Don't be so elitist. seriously.

    October 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  23. usual suspect

    While idealistically everyone should have the total freedom to transit and choose residency anywhere in the world, most nations have very restrictive immigration policies, especially discriminatory against "unskilled laborers".

    US, Germany, are particularly restrictive when it comes to Permanent Residencies. HK and PRC in general would be comparatively less restrictive.

    I have to disagree with Attorney Mr. Daly's comment about this case being a "test of Hong Kongs independent legal system".

    HK's "independent legal system" was always subordinate to the National laws of PRC, especially when it comes to an issue of National issue, such as Immigration (which also impact foreign relations).

    While HK is free to define its own laws and procedures to some degree, HK laws cannot contradict PRC's National laws in some specific issues, such as immigration and foreign relations.

    As far as I know, PRC has no specific restrictions on granting permanent residency to "unskilled laborers" from foreign nations. Thus, it may appear that HK's court ruling in favor of foreign maids' PR may be OK.

    (However, other conditions may be added. I believe PRC does require that PR applicants need to have a "permanent residence", or own businesses. Meaning, maids generally reside with their employers, as a condition of their contract, and thus they do not have "permanent residence", thus may not qualify under PRC's PR requirements.)

    October 3, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  24. MSC_fan

    @Angela: You must be one of those HK citizens, the way you speak about Filipina Domestic Workers. Now tell me, if the Filipina maid is not valuable in a society, WHO takes care of your children, while you work in the bank? while you are out of your home from 8-5. who is going to take care of shopping, cleaning, and taking care of your children? You? your Husband? How are you going to pay for your mortgage? can you afford to stay at home? I guess not. You should stop that mentality of yours, because without domestic workers, you'd be stuck at home, while your husband works to death, and you will end up in divorce. If all domestic 300,000 domestic workers stop working at the same time, in the same day, HK's economy will collapse.

    Let me give you a scenario. Not all people can go to work because they have to stay home to take care of their children. That would be around 25-35% of HK govt services paralyzed. That includes airports, hospitals, govt services, military and police forces, that most HK citizens work at. IF 25-30% of HK citizens cannot turn up at their work, THE HK economy will collapse. DO you understand this situation? Of course not, because you are a typical HK citizen. you think you are more superior that the indonesian, filipina and thai maids, BUT in the end, you are just another human being, probably with nicer clothes, and more expensive jewelry, but nah.. you are not any better than them.

    October 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  25. I can not believe the arrogance of some of these freakin idiots

    Angela, saying that these maids are worth as much as the "vacuum and mops" they´re using, makes you as valuable as the dirt these vacuums and mops are cleaning.

    And you Andy, wherever you´re from should stop wearing the same shirt everyday and try not to stink during summer..and steal? really? Our Government might be corrupt but that does not give you the right to brand us as thieves. I´m pretty sure there are no thieves in your Country and everybody is clean.

    These people work to live! for crying out loud! the least you can do is give them dignity instead of comparing them to mops or calling them thieves!

    You who think that a person´s value is based on how much he or she is earning or the quality of education he/she has, should think again, obviously you´re not earning enough and your kind of education leaves little to be desired.

    Sincerely yours,

    Outraged that this kind of people even existed!

    October 3, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  26. James

    HongKong beautiful country has become ransacked by v poor immigrants, yes we need them but not as Permanent residents. The Maids earn v good salary compared to Dubai or any other country, you guys really think 300,000 is nothing, but imagine these 300,000 Maids on P.R will bring over their kids, parents, siblings, etc, On BBC Radio an analyst calculated that Maids plus their families will total 2MILLION in just 5 years there is just NO SPACE for another 2 million in HK!!!! HK is ruined forever bye bye honkong

    October 3, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  27. Ooi

    My brother and I grew up in a middle-class household where my mom worked 7 days a week, and my dad worked 6. We were taken care of by 3 different Filipino maids throughout our childhood lives. To me as a child, they were a part of the family. They made sure I get on the school bus on time, made sure I had clean uniforms, and made sure we were fed on time. When we were itching to go out to the playground, they would take us out even though they were always busy with cleaning or cooking. Our maids were honest, kind, and hardworking. Yes they may talk on the phone with their friends on their breaks, or study their bible quietly, but they always get the job done. I am a married adult now and this article made me look back at the critical roles they played in our childhood; I really appreciate having the Filipino maids as part of our family, their important contribution to Hong Kong families cannot be understated. I applaud the court's decision, the maids should be treated equally as we do with all foreign workers.

    October 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  28. edi

    @Angela, i cant stop but commenting on your very highly educated perceptions of life.. its a reality that people are not equal and the least you could do is contribute on making equality. your comment on maids comparing them to mops, i tell you a scenario, what if you were born in a third world country and everything you do just don't give you the success you are aiming and you ended up working maid because you want to live, or you want to sacrifice for your family? do you ever imagine that? i am quite sure you are not educated at all and you are one of the rats of this society.
    look at yourself again at the mirror and see for yourself how horrible you look like. you might look clean, nicely dressed but deep inside you stink. change your life before its too late as the world doesnt need people like you, im quite sure of that.

    October 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  29. LSB

    Dear Angela – My grandmother was uneducated, brought up in small village in Eastern Europe then immigrated to Australia – let me tell you, she contributed to society. All her "duties" are not far off what we ask our "maids" to do. Many "maids" in HK don't just RUN the household, they actually take care of children and their employers. They do those things so their employer can dedicate more time and focus to their job which benefits the family unit financially. I pay my personal assistant to help me do what needs to be done. I pay my "maid" to help me do what needs to be done. If I can not afford to pay them what I think they are worth (not the government) then I do not deserve them. It is about time people in HK were honest with themselves. Many of the "maids" are worth their weight in gold, deserve respect & equality.
    You obviously believe you are educated and that you contribute to our society, however I am certain that many of us do not appreciate your contribution here or your ego trip. Your comment is disrespectful and prejudice, speaks more about you as a person than the matter at hand. I really hope you reflect on your your comment and come to understand how wrong you truly are......... that would be the best education for you and a great contribution to our society.

    October 3, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  30. Value added what?

    Dear Angela,
    Which of the following activities best demonstrates the "value added" of the banking sector: Long-Term Capital Management collapse 1998, Dot-com Bubble 2000, Global Financial Crash 2008, taking a fixed % of pension investments with a 0% guarantee of delivering anything in return for more than a century...? Personally I respect maids more than either mops or bankers, at least they've made a positive difference at the end of their working day.
    The majority of bankers ( I trust not you) were originally failed applicants for law school or med school, who, to overcome their envy of their intellectual superiors, chose the one career which promised more salary than either of these paths. However, envy is an insatiable monster and no number of global speculative crashes and wealth destruction for everyone – except the bankers – will ever satisfy it. Better that the world's universities offered "Law for Dummies" and "Medicine for Dummies", including mandatory "Ethics 101" and "Cultural Awareness 101" in both cases.

    October 3, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  31. warfreak

    @angela
    how i wanted to see you getting old with nobody to take care of you... and see you eat like a pig.

    October 4, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  32. John

    Suppose the maids gets the right to permanent residence in HK.

    Before she can bring her 3 children and husband and parents to live in HK, she and/or her husband must find a job that pays enough to support their family, provide a residence, and so on. She won’t be able to raise a family on a maid’s salary. Where would they live?

    In other words, she will have to find a better job and increase her financial worth to society, to the same level as other workers in HK. Some will be able to do that. Many will not.

    So I don’t necessarily see that we will see a permanent influx of maid’s families.

    I can see though that the medical system in HK will need to be upgraded, as many will seek to get (cheaper and often better) medical services in HK rather than their home countries.

    October 4, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  33. HK is screwed

    Seems like the domestic helpers want to jump in the boat and sink together. Hong Kong is screwed.

    October 4, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  34. ordosincorporated

    I'm sorry but in the states many if not most, parents work. I was a latchkey kid, I went home to an empty house like most kids. Divorces, single parents and other issues dictated these circumstances. We dont need maids or babysitters we had tv's and imaginations. We turned out just fine contrary to the opinion of some. Kids dont need two parents at home. They certainly dont need to be raised by people that dont share the same cultural values of lower station. I wouldnt want my kids raised by indonesians or filipinos. And if I had a maid from the mainland I would want the right to choose what type of mainlander. For example a mongolian or other minority. They can get welfare and government housing, woe be to the other residents. And apply the voucher and "trade up" as high as they can go. But I wouldnt want to be living in those high rise apartments when the gatecrashes come flooding in. I lived in a high class high rise on the south side of chicago in the early 80s with a uncle by marriage. Across the way were some of the worst black ghettos in the world. Cabrini key. Virtual combat zones. Mark my words this is what some of apartment complexes will look like in short time.

    October 5, 2011 at 5:18 am |
  35. Cindy Onne

    I Want to Employ the Services of a Nanny/Housekeeper at My Home in England, Nice friendly family of 4 looking for a Nanny. We have 2 wonderful boys and a girl– 8 months, 2 and 5 years old and the ideal candidate should be a positive role-model for them. If you are fun, energetic, kind, caring, organized, reliable, detail-oriented, athletic, cheerful, and smart and love children, then we would love to talk to you!

    Must be an English speaking, non-smoker (not smoked in the last 3 years), with a college degree, and at least 1 year of child-care experience. Valid driver’s license with good driving record required. Passport and CPR certification required – we will pay for both if you don’t currently have them. Experience with life guarding, diabetes, and elementary education are plusses.

    Position involves traveling with our family including some international travel (4 to 7 weeks a year) as well as travel within the UK. We pay all travel expenses. This is a good opportunity for someone who likes to travel or is interested in traveling. Destinations include Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean.

    The work schedule varies based on travel, school schedule, holidays, and other activities – day and evening, both weekends and weekdays. While caring for the children is the primary responsibility, there will be light housekeeping (there is a full-time housekeeper 5 days a week), meal prep, errands (in provided car), and other household assistance. We are looking for someone who is able to make a minimum 24 month commitment.

    We offer a great salary 600 Pounds Sterling Weekly, health-care insurance, paid vacation, 401K (after 6 months), private, furnished apartment over the garage with separate entrance. If you are interested, you should contact me via my email address: cindyonne@yahoo.com, with your C.V or resume.

    Thanks,

    Cindy

    October 11, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  36. Terry K Offord

    Having lived and worked as an Air Traffic Controller in HongKong, Singapore, Indonesia, Greece and other countries, the nature of my employment demanded that I employ a Maid. Many were Phillipino or Chinese, and in one instance Indonesian. In all cases the ladies were honest, hardworking and I felt, equally as important as many of the overpaid, arrogant and ignorant Europeans and a few Hong Kong Chinese employers of Maids. For the disgusting 'Angela' to describe them as worthless, likening them to mops and cleaning items, how dare she speak of others in this way. I would suggest she's one of the Noveau Riche types who parades around the social set with her Guci and YSL Baubles and has an obvious overly high opinion of herself, she may have been afforded a top education however, she clearly din not learn that, a Degree in mere Management or Accounting doesn't give one the right to look down on someone who, by dint of their place of birth, are more or less forced into what she considers a menial job. Without Maids/Child Minders etc., what would these over paid ignorant and arrogant individuals do?Any that I have been aquainted with wouldn't know how to even dress a child, boil an egg or cook a meal. I suggest that these COLONIAL thinking individuals get off their High Horses, Britain's colonies are no more.I am English by the way and I am conversant with English and Chinese arrogance, neither of which are acceptable.As for Angela and her type, I'd suggest that at least, you try to make amends and publicly withdraw your caustic comments.

    March 27, 2012 at 6:59 am |
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