Support groups call for greater contractual regulations as shocking photograph emerges of domestic helper cleaning 15th-floor Mid-Levels apartment windowA recent ban on cleaning high-rise windows is not sufficient to protect Hong Kong’s domestic workers from exploitation, campaigners argue after a shocking photograph recently emerged of a helper cleaning a window at a 15th-floor apartment in the Mid-Levels.
The government this week revealed details of a new clause to be added to all domestic helper employment contracts, prohibiting them from cleaning external windows above the ground floor unless the window is fitted with a secure grille.
The ban, proposed by the Philippines Consulate, was initially delayed for one month to allow Hong Kong lawmakers more time to establish the specific wording of the new clause.
But it will not come into force until January 1 next year, leaving the majority of Hong Kong’s 330,000 domestic helpers, most of whom originate from the Philippines and Indonesia, at risk of exploitation.
Even with the ban, employers will not face criminal prosecution if they ignore the new regulations, and campaigners estimate that it could take two years for the clause to be included in all domestic helper contracts, as it requires employers to renew the contracts of their current helpers.
Even while they welcome the ban, campaign groups said it did not go far enough in protecting helpers’ rights.
H ong Kong and Philippine officials stop short of ‘total ban’ on domestic workers cleaning exterior of windows
The government’s announcement came just a few weeks after a domestic helper was seen cleaning windows while balancing precariously on a ledge at the Silvercrest building in MacDonnell Road, Mid-Levels, an area popular with expatriate families. The photographer, who asked not to be identified, shared the image with campaign group Helpers for Domestic Helpers in a bid to raise awareness of the ongoing exploitation faced by migrant workers.
Holly Allan, the charity’s manager, said helpers were still vulnerable to exploitation because of their unspecified duties and unrestricted working hours.
“Any tasks or activities that pose risks to the safety of any worker should be regulated and the government must develop strict measures to minimise those risks,” she said.
“While it is reasonable to maintain a balance between the safety of workers and the needs of employers, workers’ safety should always be the priority.
“It is laudable the Philippine Consulate has sought to protect Filipino domestic workers by banning external window cleaning.”