Wage bump that will hit home for us

Editorial | 2 Aug 2017

Manila is expecting to reap dividends from Beijing for its cooperation on the hot South China Sea issue.

Philippine media claimed China will open several more cities to Filipino domestic helpers, and that they can earn 100,000 pesos (HK$15,493) a month in five cities - more than triple the minimum of HK$4,310 monthly in Hong Kong.

Masters at Malacanang Palace - from ex-president Benigno Aquino to current head of state Rodrigo Duterte - have learned in recent years how to leverage on the competition between the United States and Middle Kingdom on the waters surrounding the island country.

While Aquino had picked the country's former colonial rulers - the Americans - Duterte has opted for the Chinese. But what they share in common is the goal of gaining economic rewards from the big brothers.

That mainlanders may pay more than HK$15,000 a month to hire English-speaking Filipinos as helpers is based on a report by the Philippine Star, quoting a Philippine official. The Chinese embassy in Manila was reportedly unaware of the information.

Quite possibly, the figure is a trial balloon released ahead of a meeting between Philippine and mainland officials next month.

It's common for one side to jack up demands ahead of negotiations. In view of its cooperation on the South China Sea, the Duterte regime won't be shy about stating its price. However, it's too early to say 100,000 pesos will ultimately be the agreed-to price.

That sum would make the mainland one of the world's highest payers - second to Australia, where helpers earn the equivalent of HK$17,400, and Canada, where duties after eight hours daily in a five-day work week must be compensated at overtime rates. That means in Vancouver, for example, a helper would be paid British Columbia's statutory minimum of C$10.85 (HK$68) an hour, or about HK$12,000 monthly, based on a 40-hour work week with no overtime.

The Hong Kong Employers of Domestic Helpers Association is fooling itself when it expressed confidence the mainland development would have little local impact because of our sound legal system. That's total rubbish.

Why would people be willing to leave their families to work in places thousands of kilometers from home? It's all about money. The 190,000 Filipino helpers working in the SAR form such a small community that information is shared instantly. If Maid A says she's moving north, Maid B will follow, and Maid C would be tempted to join later.

After housing, private hospital beds and baby formula that mainlanders have made expensive, this will be another key household spending item that the middle-class will fall victim to. For many families, where both parents have to work long hours to repay mortgages and shell out for expensive food and children's private tuition sessions, domestic helpers are indispensable.

It's impossible for the locals to match mainlanders with similar wage offers.

Worse still, the knock-on effect doesn't stop there, as the Indonesians may ask for a wage hike after demand for domestic help shifts from Filipinos to them, with the repercussion to be felt most by families with young children and elderly members.

When Beijing rewards Manila for its cooperation, should it also consider the impact on Hong Kong?

It's a major livelihood issue that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor must raise with Beijing, before its delegation leaves for Manila to finalize the deal.

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