No matter how hard the government tries to justify its HK$400 levy per
month on foreign domestic workers, it will be seen as a cruel and
unjust tax on a section of the community that can least afford it. The
levy will affect 240,000 foreign domestic workers, of which the vast
majority, some 153,000, are Filipinos. On Thursday the Philippine
senate adopted a resolution denouncing the "discriminatory" levy.
The Philippine government is expected to take the issue to the
International Labour Organisation.
The levy will do nothing to enhance Hong Kong's image overseas.
Although described as a levy, it is really a tax on a section of the
population who earn about HK$3,670 a month. After the levy, which will
be paid by employers, the domestic workers' salary will be cut to just
The amount of revenue this will raise, about HK$1.4 billion, will
hardly put a dent in the estimated HK$70 billion deficit expected for
this financial year. There are some who even go as far as describing
the levy as racist.
Philippine senate president Franklin Drilon made the point this week
that "Hong Kong's success has always been built on free-market
principles and its reputation for openness to foreign trade,
investment and services. It has always prided itself on being a global
city and a free-market economy."
The levy on domestic workers goes against those principles.
To impose such a levy on the lowest paid defies logic and shows the
government as lacking compassion and bereft of coherent policies.
Indeed it comes at the same time the government cuts welfare payments
by 11.1 per cent to the unemployed, elderly, disabled and the mentally
The result the levy will achieve is what some sections of the
community are clearly hoping for and that is fewer foreign maids
seeking employment in Hong Kong.
Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang has said the revenue
from the levy will be used to fund job training programmes for local
workers who will otherwise be on welfare. That is a spurious argument
as most of those on welfare are unskilled or semi-skilled workers,
many of whom are from the mainland anyway.
One can only assume that the retraining will go towards making beds,
cooking, cleaning, picking up school children and perhaps walking
What the government fails to understand is that, despite the low pay
of the foreign domestic workers, they spend money in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor has said that companies providing
remittance and cargo forwarding services will suffer, not to mention
the impact on local retail outlets and fast-food restaurants.
The government has no idea what foreign domestic workers contribute to
the local economy. This was clearly evident this month when legislator
Eric Li asked Secretary for Economic Development and Labour Stephen Ip
whether the government had ever conducted surveys on the average
monthly spending of domestics.
Ip admitted the government had no idea what the consumption and
spending patterns were for domestic helpers.
At the same time, Ip admitted that he had no idea how much foreign
maids remitted each month as there was no exchange control in Hong
Kong and foreign workers could make inward or outward remittances
The whole exercise is ill-conceived and in time will backfire on Hong
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