Friday, February 15, 2008

Filipina Domestic Workers Losing Out to Indonesians in HK Job Market

Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong relax during their day off

From the Inquirer:

MANILA, Philippines -- The number of Filipino domestic helpers entering Hong Kong has dropped sharply in the past five years as Indonesians are beginning to challenge the Filipinos’ domination of this job market in the former British colony.

“Data from the Hong Kong immigration office show that fewer Filipinos have been working in the former Crown Colony as Indonesian domestic helpers are taking over their territory,” said recruitment consultant Emmanuel Geslani Friday.

Geslani said that as of October 2007, 123,000 of the 250,000 foreign domestic helpers working in Hong Kong were Filipinos. Indonesians comprised 115,000 while Thais, Nepalese, Sri Lankans and other nationalities made up the rest.

“Many Hong Kong employers prefer the Indonesians who are more subservient and allow themselves to be underpaid,” Geslani said. He said Indonesians agree to work every day of the week unlike Filipinos who always want to have a day off.

Geslani said the Philippine government’s policy of raising the monthly salary rate of Filipino domestic helpers and requiring that they undergo language and skills training before their deployment has made the situation worse.

Meanwhile, a number of Hong Kong recruitment agencies are complaining against the allegedly inconsistent and selective application of the processing rules by a Philippine labor official there, Geslani said.

*A few points of interest in this article. For starters, it is admirable that the Philippine government has pursued efforts to improve the skills of and demand higher wages for its domestic workers. Unfortunately, as the article mentions, the domestic help industry, at least in Hong Kong, values cost over anything else.

Therefore, even as Filipina domestic workers now have government policies to raise their pay and skill level, they find themselves losing in the race for the cheapest taker to Indonesians who, as the recruitment consultant so graciously put it, are in a nut shell willing to work more for less and are more tolerant of abuse than their Filipina counterparts.

In international labor migration, a country is exporting its citizens to provide added value to a foreign economy. In an industry like domestic work, however, that does not prize added value as much as it does overhead, this logic does not apply and leaves domestic workers from the Philippines or any country vulnerable to low pay, no time off, and sexual, physical and mental abuse.
The domestic help industry is a race to the bottom, not a race to the top.

With higher required monthly salaries, fewer Filipinas will find employment in domestic work abroad, which ultimately hurts the economy that has become over reliant on migrant earnings sent home and trickles down to the families that generally use these earnings to cover the cost of food, education and health care.

This article truly displays the need for reform in the domestic worker industry. Because of the economic quagmire faced by countries like the Philippines (if they increase monthly wages for domestic workers they decrease demand for their domestic workers, if they let market forces prevail and allow lower salaries they support an industry rife with abuse and little regulation), I think the responsibility to protect domestic workers from abuse, including human trafficking, ultimately falls in the lap of the destination countries like Hong Kong who are in a position to institute industry standards and regulation as well as provide legal and social service resources to workers who are being abused.

What do you all think? What can source countries and destination countries do to reform the domestic help industry and other low pay, largely unregulated service sector industries that attract migrants?

1 comment:

  1. Hey there - It's Helen. Great post on the "race to the bottom" for domestic worker salaries in Hong Kong. I just stated writing about some issues here in Hong Kong as a way to help wrap my head around the situation. Hope you're doing well.