You just can’t get good help these days

The Chungweiming Knitting Factory in the Hang Cheong Factory Building in Shamshuipo sounds like something out of the 1950s or 60s. The sort of place where new immigrants living in shacks worked seven-day weeks, cops in shorts beat up communist agitators during strikes, and the Shanghainese owners got rich off textiles quotas. Yet this apparent relic lives on.

Its director is the Hon Felix Chung Kwok-pan. If the name rings a faint bell, it could be because he was one of the Legislative Council members on the infamous Cathay Pacific ‘aircraft delivery’ chateau-visiting tour in France two months ago. He is a member of the tycoon-oriented Liberal Party and represents the close-knit (ha ha) Textiles and Garment Functional Constituency, a small circle with a couple of thousand corporate votes, probably wielded by a significantly smaller number of actual humans.

Although he looks a vaguely youthful 50 and studied in the UK, he seems to have a rather traditional Confucian approach to manpower and employment matters. He is proposing that Hong Kong scrap the hiring of Filipinos as domestic helpers and turn instead to Myanmar. On the face of it, the idea is to punish the Philippines for being so uppity over the Manila bus hostage shootings tragedy. But what really seems to get his juices flowing is the prospect of sourcing workers from a place that is even poorer, and – I am just guessing – who are less educated, more servile and generally better suited to be Hong Kong families’ maids. What could be more mouth-watering than staff accustomed to US$25 a week? That’s not even 30 Hong Kong dollars a day!

He knows of what he speaks, as he is involved in some grubby-sounding garment sweatshop/industrial park down in Burma. Sadly, the Myanmar government seems reluctant to play along and says it allows its people to do only relatively skilled rather than menial work abroad. This might be out of national pride, or it could be for fear of exposing the country’s young women to abuse or other dangers.

The trend seems to be for source countries to clamp down on exporting nationals as maids. Indonesia and the Philippines both claim they will stop letting their nationals do such work overseas from 2017. The Philippines now requires Hong Kong employers, rather than the helpers, to pay placement fees, which we are told has contributed to a disturbing pattern of Filipino maids feeling entitled to quit their jobs if they’re not happy. This has led to the search for new poor brown people to wash dishes. Some Bangladeshi ladies arrived earlier this year, but many were fired owing to ‘communication problems’. The cheap house-servants lobby has always been keen on letting Vietnamese and, indeed, Mainlanders into Hong Kong, but the government is reluctant, apparently for fear that they will abscond and overstay (not brown enough – but Macau has loads of Vietnamese maids).

So we’re kind of running out of places. Laos, perhaps? Haiti?

It is easy to sneer at Hong Kong’s reliance on cheap domestic servants. We might also wonder at the affects on people’s racial attitudes and moral fibre, or – with school children (and Singapore’s soldiers) unable to carry their own bags – fitness (and let’s not get into who does the kid’s English homework). Defenders of the system point out that maids are essential because they free up middle-class wives to work outside the home, and thus enable families to make ends meet.

Which leads us to another explanation of who’s exploiting whom. Only by earning double incomes can Hong Kong families afford the city’s overpriced housing; the maids free up the housewives to work for the property tycoons. Or maybe that’s just a cynical, wild conspiracy theory, and those dots all neatly join up by coincidence. Like it’s just a coincidence that most of Hong Kong’s traditional textiles and garment companies have more exposure to real estate than the rag trade these days.

I declare the three-day wash-your-own-dishes period open.

This just in! Shanghai Free-Trade Zone announces plan to have Tuen Mun-style infestation of giant monster flies by 2017 and thus become global international financial hub.

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19 Responses to You just can’t get good help these days

  1. Real Scot Player says:

    No maids in Honkers? Never going to happen. Too much supply within a short haul flight

  2. maugrim says:

    “I am just guessing – who are less educated, more servile and generally better suited to be Hong Kong families’ maids. What could be more mouth-watering than staff accustomed to US$25 a week?” I love this site’s cynicism, the same thought occurred to me. As much as I love HK and its people, i have this awful feeling that the compulsion to beat and screw anyone poorer, to make their lives a misery, all for the satisfaction of saving a few dollars, while at the same time keeping a watchful eye out for any instances where they themselves may be discriminated against (largely in foreign countries), bodes ill for the future of the city.

  3. The Regulator says:

    According to the Inland Revenue Department http://www.ird.gov.hk/eng/ppr/archives/13100901.htm
    including maids in Hong Kong, 54% of workers pay no tax
    another 20% contributed a minimum of HKD700 million
    and the top 3% (about 112,600 individuals) contributed HKD21 BILLION

  4. Gin Soaked Boy says:

    The Singapore soldier story is revealing. It opens the door to the true impact of a maid-based parenting culture on youth. Go to any Hong Kong Yam Cha restaurant at a weekend and observe the families. The parents will invariably be reading the newspaper or have their head stuck in the iPad, whilst the little ones are fed and entertained by the maid. Any kid seeking attention from the parents is brushed aside, with the maid ordered to take the kid away.

    And what of the mighty Singaporean soldier, who was photographed with his maid carrying his kit bag. He received counselling! Not extra PT, not guard-duty, but counselling. Poor dear.

  5. Failed Alchemist says:

    Its a two-edged sword. With globalization, everybody needs to work. From poor households in Bangladesh to middle-class HK or Singapore. One side, survival and the other, level of contentment or retirement nest egg versus inflation or as pointed out greedy robber barons.

    If this was not so, these Filipinas will be happily reunited with families in the land of bounty and freedom.

    Being the enterpreneur (this Felix guy), everyone is looking out for the best deal and we dare say, few are altruistic even when it comes to sweat shops in Asia. So in this guy’s world-view, its just a business transaction minus the human element.

    Being tempted to carry on from yesterday’s posting. A sweet Filipina acquaintance once said, “Aquino is a mongoloid”. Before there are rants of racism & things being equal, our lawmakers are equally as mongoloid.

    But seriously, the Mongoloid says its not in Filipino culture to apologize for things done by another. Why the heck does Obama keep saying sorry after every shooting? Either there is one guy that doesn’t understand empathy and worst still, saying his country men are likewise. So cheers to Felix as he serves his term as another ……

  6. Big Al says:

    Surely obvious answer to Singapore’s military problem is to conscript Filipina maids into the army and cut out the middleman? Also, since they are brown, it wouldn’t matter if they were shot (not that the Singapore army ever goes into battle) and, besides, if they were it would serve the Philippines right for allowing the Manila bus hostage debacle. “Tits for tat retaliation” I believe is the term used in military parlance (particularly apt given that the “tat” being all that is Manilla and the “tits”, well …)

  7. gweiloeye says:

    How dare Myanmar refuse to let their people come to HK as maids. The hide of some people. These “brown people” countries just don’t know their place.

  8. Oneleggoalie says:

    Hong Kong should take this chance and demand Philippines Government send only hot Pinas to work as maids…the ones we get now are butt ugly.

    The really hot ones work in Wan Chai…too expensive…or are in night clubs in Manila.

    Time for smart moves.

  9. Joe Blow says:

    Domestic helpers are the same as secretaries: they cause more work and stress, and they cost more in time and money, than they actually contribute.

  10. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Is it just me, or is there a conspiracy not to fill in the dots? The Filipinas are brown-skinned, but most of the Burmese are not. This in turn means the latter are infinitely more qualified to work in HK households — but less visible in public and so slightly less easy to bully and intimidate. You pays yer money and…

  11. It may be true, Regulator, that more than half of workers pay no salaries tax, but even the poorest pay tax indirectly. High property taxes (in the form of stamp duty) are reflected in the price of everything they buy, because shops and restaurants have to pass it on somehow – the more so now that the government is applying higher stamp duties to commercial premises as well as residential. Taxes on commercial vehicles and fuel also get passed on to everyone.

  12. Real Scot Player says:

    @oneleg. The hot Flippers stopped coming to HK long ago. Either bars in Seoul and Tokyo or wet nurses in Vancouver for 23 months and 30 days, not a minute longer, before they get citizenship. Then import the family to live on welfare.

  13. Mjrelje says:

    What is all this ‘brown-skin’ nonsense that HK seems to cast the Philippines and South Asia as. You look down any road and the vast majority of Chinese here are far more brown skinned than Philippinos or Bangladeshis. Talk about the pot calling the kettle brown!

  14. Sojourner says:

    @ Regulator

    My heart bleeds for the top 3%.

    Despite this the rich in Hong Kong are getting richer and the wealth gap continues to widen.

  15. First Time Poster says:

    There’s a further 3 (or more) % in Hong Kong who launder all their earnings through BVI or Cayman Islands shell companies, therefore avoiding paying any tax at all.

  16. ElephantintheCity says:

    “the great fear in Hong Kong is not taxation without representation, but ‘representation without taxation’ in which the non-taxpaying majority would dictate [terms] to the taxpayers.” — BowTie

    http://wikileaks.org/cable/2005/10/05HONGKONG4611.html

  17. Real Tax Payer says:

    Hemmers – as usual you are dead on the nail.

    There is now some new rule that only “experienced” Amahs are allowed into HK. I’m not sure what “experienced” means .

    Our own Amah ( Domestic Helper) is Indonesian and a very devout Muslim (although she does not wear head- shawl)

    But she is supremely honest down to the last cent regarding the things she buys at the market for us. I can (and occasionally do) check all the food bills and they are indeed accurate to the nearest cent.

    She worked in Singapore for several years before coming to HK 6 years ago. Does that qualify her as “experienced” or not ? But yet she says that it may be difficult for her to renew her contract due to new immigration rules.

    She is probably much more honest than many “Christian” Filipina Amahs who can be seen prancing around Wanchai on high heels and hot pants on Sundays .

    No disrespect intended to Filipinas , but I thinks it’s true to say that “in general” their “Christian” morals are much more loose than most Muslims’ morals .

    And there’s also a new rule I only just discovered because of the Disco Bay 6 thing : the Maid MUST live in ! Otherwise it’s illegal.

    How on earth can one give a maid a decent bed-space in a 500 sq foot flat with only 2 bedrooms, one of which is now occupied with a teenage son ?

    In truth – when we bought our apartment and redecorated we could have technically have re-designed it to include a coffin- sized bed space for an Amah . But even though that was technically possible we preferred to give our Amah the dignity of her own freely- rented place to live, which actually costs us almost as much as her monthly wage. And we also pay over the market rate for her wage because to find such a treasured – honest Maid is indeed worth paying far over the official rate.

    Nuff said

    Fuck people like the Hon Felix Chung Kwok-pan.

    Rant over

  18. Real Scot Player – I suppose it’s too much to expect non-racist comments from someone who refers to “Flippers”, but of the 2 Filipinas I know who’ve emigrated to Canada, one works hard while the other is a housewife supported by her (non-Filipino) husband. Neither lives on welfare. Is it really necessary to drag out these kinds of stereotypes?

  19. pcatbar says:

    RTP, no shortage of Indonesians, (also of the ‘non scarff wearing’ kind ) in Wanchai, I am reliably informed!

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