30th September 2023 – (Hong Kong) The Hong Kong government’s decision to raise the minimum wage for foreign domestic workers yet again ignores the immense financial strain already faced by local employers. While ostensibly to improve FDW welfare, the near-annual increments reveal authorities’ wilful blindness to economic realities confronting ordinary families.
The latest 3% minimum allowable wage (MAW) hike, along with higher food allowance requirements, will further squeeze households struggling with soaring inflation and stagnant pay. But as usual, the government sides with FDWs over local workers bearing the true brunt of deepening livelihood woes. This lopsided dynamic persists despite no evidence most employers can readily absorb ceaseless MAW increases. Over 330,000 FDWs serve roughly 240,000 Hong Kong families. The vast majority are dual-income middle-class couples dependent on helpers for childcare and elderly care while working punishing hours.
Already expending up to one-fifth of their income on FDWs, endless pay bumps impose severe added burdens. Local workers have received below-inflation pay adjustments for years, if any. But authorities aggressively expand FDW protections while ignoring the parallel plight of ordinary Hong Kongers.
Worse, employers lacking bargaining power cannot resist MAW hikes, as new contracts must comply immediately. FDWs meanwhile face no risks, with full government backing and abundant job options. The process resembles ritualistic extortion, extracting more from struggling employers each year.
Absurdly, activists even demanded a 30% MAW surge to HK$6,228, later settling for the 3% raise when the government instantly acquiesced as usual. Demands to peg FDW wages to inflation were also highly audacious given their minimal local living costs.
In reality, local workers are the ones being crushed by spiraling prices while getting by on stagnant incomes. Their straitened circumstances necessitate hiring FDWs, not elite luxuries as some disingenuously portray. Yet only FDW welfare preoccupies the authorities, with employers’ parallel plight ignored.
Even when Indonesia threatened an administrative surcharge for FDW hiring, the Hong Kong government intervened for migrant worker interests over local concerns.This asymmetry extends across policies, from intransigence on tax deductions for FDW employers versus zeal improving migrant rights.
Adding insult, vignettes of abusive employers stereotype households as cruel exploiters rather than everyday people struggling with endless burdens. But the truth on the ground looks far different from callous typecasts.
With neglect by officials forcing families close to the brink, something must change to restore equilibrium. If minimum wages should consider economic conditions, then FDW hikes warrant prudence given hardships confronting scores of employers.
Annual MAW increments well above inflation and pay rises for local workers cannot persist indefinitely. Authorities must recognize the untenable pressure heaped upon ordinary households.
High costs already compel many to minimize FDW rest days and ban home leaves. Such tradeoffs against migrant welfare may become more common without relief to employers. Is this ideal for harmony?
To be sure, certain families can afford higher FDW expenses. But the majority are modest-income earners for whom ceaseless hikes inflict serious lifestyle impact. It is their voices neglected in policymaking.
With Hong Kong’s household debt hovering at 90% of GDP, reversing highest globally, the breaking point nears unless affordability improves. Authorities must open eyes to real economic anxiety and empathy for employer interests. Relief can come through various channels. Tax deductibility for FDW expenses would offer direct alleviation, as would narrowing minimum wage increments. Partial government subsidies could also ease pressures.
Creative solutions exist if officials recognize worsening imbalances. But rectification is impossible absent political will to depart from habitual indifference to employers’ plight. A mindset shift putting local families first is overdue.
For Hong Kong to thrive, pragmatism and fairness must shape policy. Currently only one side faces repeated blows, harming social cohesion. The government must abandon the mindless reflex of ceaseless FDW wage hikes without regard for consequences. With flexibility and understanding, an equilibrium serving households and migrant workers alike can be struck. But achieving balance requires focusing on struggling local families too long denied empathy. If ignored further, calls for change will only intensify.