A Hong Kong politician’s suggestion to limit air conditioning use for locally employed foreign domestic helpers has been met with condemnation from rights groups who call the practice “inhumane”.
In a recent radio interview, District Councilor Michael Lee called on employers to establish firm house rules in restricting air conditioning use for foreign maids amid sweltering temperatures in the summer, according to AFP.
Lee, who serves as the spokesperson of the pro-business Liberal Party’s Taskforce on Foreign Helper’s Problems, also expressed that since they came from “hot, hot” countries, the helpers should be accustomed to the hot weather.
“If they come from the hot country, they should get used to the hot weather,” Lee later reiterated his point to AFP.
He further suggested that helpers should be allowed air-con at night, but only so they can fulfill their household duties.
“Otherwise she can’t sleep, then she can’t work,” said Lee. “I recommend all employers in Hong Kong set up house rules saying what they can and cannot do,” he added.
Rights groups have blasted Lee’s pronouncements, calling his proposal to limit air conditioning to be “ridiculous, unfair and inhumane”.
“To regulate the foreign domestic helpers in using air conditioning is inhumane and will cause deterioration to their health,” Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body representative Eni Lestari said. Lestari, herself, is a former domestic helper.
Growing reports of high-profile abuse cases have alarmed concerned groups over the welfare of over 340,000 migrant domestic workers currently working in Hong Kong. The majority of these workers originate from the Philippines and Indonesia.
Current laws require maids to live with their employers, making it difficult for them to avoid and escape potential abuses, according to rights advocates.
Rights groups have also criticized other exploitative practices by both the recruitment agencies which collect exorbitant fees and the employers who impose strict rules on their migrant employees.
Just recently, a social media post of an employer ranting on how her helper had switched on the air conditioning in her room at night without permission, went viral on Facebook.
“I’m very angry,” the woman, identified only by her surname Wong, wrote based on a now deleted post on a closed group for Hong Kong employers of foreign helpers.
She went on to describe her maid as “audacious to the extreme,” announcing her plans of removing the air conditioning switch. Some residents criticized her for her post while there were also others who cheered her for it.