Migrant domestic workers are happy to take jobs no one else in their destination country wants.
Desperation does that to a person.
Anxious to find work to support the families they left behind, migrant domestic workers often accept so-called “3-D jobs:” dirty, difficult and dangerous.
They watch other people’s children. They scrub bathrooms and kitchens. They work long hours in private homes or change linens in hotel rooms.
Even when their working papers are in order, they are at risk.
The fear of deportation keeps many workers silent when faced with horrific conditions and abuse. After all, how can you report a violation of your rights when you don’t speak the language? How do you know when you’re the victim of discrimination if you don’t know your rights?
The situation facing Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong is a case in point.
Faced with a poorly performing economy in the 1970s, Ferdinand Marcos, then president of the Philippines, implemented the Labor Code of 1974. The stage was set for the country’s massive export of labor.
In the years to follow, the economy became increasingly dependent on the flow of unskilled labor out of the country. This trend dovetailed conveniently with the economic rise of Hong Kong in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Decades later, the situation remains in flux for these Filipina women. The Philippine government has made laudable attempts to demand higher wages for its domestic workers in Hong Kong and other cities.
But in Hong Kong, it’s all about the money.
The very safeguards designed to protect Filipina domestic workers often make them less attractive to employers. There’s a steady stream of workers from other countries, such as Indonesia, who are willing to put in more hours for less pay and look the other way when abuses happen.
With higher required monthly salaries, fewer Filipinas will find work in Hong Kong. The greatest impact is on their families back in the Philippines who depend on that income.
Lutherans at work in Hong Kong
The need for reform in the domestic worker industry makes ministering to these women in their city (many of them Filipina) a key priority of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong.
At the heart of this outreach: a commitment to empower workers through education, so that Filipinas and others better understand their rights and the options available to them.
The ELCA provides financial support for this and other programs of the Hong Kong Lutheran church, and also helps staff the local seminary.
Lutherans are a minority in this country of over 6.8 million people, where Christians make up only 10 percent of the population. Cantonese is the primary language of Hong Kong, although English is an official language as well.
Hong Kong is one of the central financial and trading centers of the world. It exports billions of dollars worth of products each year. It is home to the world’s eighth largest stock market, the fifth largest banking sector and its economy is the sixth richest in the world.