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Hong Kong faces maids embargo

Hundreds of domestic helpers have taken to the streets of Hong Kong protesting the wage cut.
Hundreds of domestic helpers have taken to the streets of Hong Kong protesting the wage cut.

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MANILA, Philippines (Reuters) -- The Philippines temporarily banned its nationals from taking jobs as maids in Hong Kong on Wednesday after the Chinese territory cut the minimum wage for foreign domestic help.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called on Hong Kong to reconsider its decision to slash the HK$3,670 (US$470) minimum monthly wage for foreign maids by HK$400.

"The decision of the government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to slash the minimum wage for foreign domestic workers in the territory is unfair and unjust," Arroyo said.

The Philippines provides most of Hong Kong's 240,000 foreign maids, followed in order by Thailand, Indonesia and the Indian subcontinent.

Foreign maids, who free Chinese women from their homes to join the workforce, are among the lowest-paid employees in Hong Kong and work up to 15 hours a day.

Many send most or all of their earnings back home to support their families, contributing significantly to the Philippines' balance of payments.

Hong Kong, battling to curb its gaping budget deficit, last week imposed a HK$400 monthly levy on employers of foreign maids from October and cut the minimum wage of domestic help hired from April by the same amount.

"Really unfair"

Arroyo said she had ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to forge a coalition with other countries affected by the wage cut in Hong Kong.

Filipinas queue up at a Manila recruitment agency for jobs that will take them overseas.
Filipinas queue up at a Manila recruitment agency for jobs that will take them overseas.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, said it had not yet received the notification from the Philippines but defended its move.

"In terms of wages and employment conditions for foreign maids in Hong Kong, we believe we're being very reasonable," Hong Kong Secretary for Economic Development and Labour Stephen Ip told reporters.

"Of course, at the end of the day, it is for the maids to decide whether to work in Hong Kong or somewhere else."

Reaction was mixed among domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

"We are against any banning of processing of papers for Filipinos because the government has not offered us any alternative in the event that we cannot go to Hong Kong," Connie Bragas-Regalado, spokeswoman for Asian Migrant Coordinating Body, told Hong Kong radio.

But an unidentified maid who has worked in Hong Kong for more than two years told local television: "She (Arroyo) has the right to make a decision like that. It's really unfair ... because our salary is only HK$3,670."

Many maids in Hong Kong do not even get the minimum wage. The government does not strictly enforce the mandatory wage level and maids do not report their employers for fear they will lose their jobs or be sent home.

Hundreds of maids took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to protest against the pay cut.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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