To urge the Hong Kong government to include migrant workers in its minimum wage legislation, local Roman Catholics and Protestants formally launched the network on July 19, in the city’s business center on the open floor under the headquarters of Hong Kong Bank. This is a concreted-in area where thousands of migrant workers spend their days off, chatting and sharing food and yarns.
At the urging of non-governmental organizations including Christian groups, the Hong Kong government has agreed to implement minimum wage legislation within two years, but it intends to exclude at least 200,000 migrant workers from coverage.
The government has said that many migrant workers, of whom a substantial number come from the Philippines, work as domestic helpers in this Special Administrative Region of China. Many of these domestic workers live in the same residence as their employers, and the government argues it is impractical to accurately document their working time.
The network to protect the migrant workers includes a number of Christian bodies such as the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, the Catholic Labour Affairs Commission and the ecumenical Hong Kong Christian Institute.
At its press conference on July 19, organizers, including the Rev. Phyllis Wong of the Union Church, emphasized that migrant workers are essential to the local society, and they should enjoy full labor rights, as should local workers.
Law Pui Shan of the Catholic Labour Affairs Commission told the media that migrant workers sacrifice their family lives in order to try to improve their living conditions. She said, however, many of them lose contact with their children or end up getting divorced. Law lamented that many employers do not respect the migrant workers they employ, and treat them inhumanely.
The network initiated an online petition asking employers to treat their migrant workers better. It also mentioned that many migrant workers are deprived of sufficient time to eat, and are deprived of free access to the residences in which they work. They are also restricted in their use of use of communication tools such as mobile phones, or meeting one another in person. Some are so busy they do not have eight hours to sleep each day. The petition condemns such conditions as immoral and asks employers to avoid them.