Migrant Forum in Asia
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Statement on International Women’s Day 2007

ADVANCE WOMEN MIGRANTS’ RIGHTS!
STOP DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN!
RECOGNIZE WOMEN’S WORK & DOMESTIC WORK AS WORK!

On 8 March, the world will jointly mark International Women’s Day. CMR, together with our partners in Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China, our Asian network (Migrant Forum in Asia/MFA), and our international partner (Migrants’ Rights International/MRI), is joining the world celebration to advance global solidarity and promote the rights and empowerment of women migrants. In Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China, we, the foreign domestic workers (FDWs), are calling for an end to all forms of discrimination against women, the proper valuation of women’s work, and the recognition of our work (domestic work) as work.

  1. SCRAP THE “NEW CONDITIONS OF STAY” (NCS) & TWO-WEEK RULE!The HK government has a law against gender discrimination; it also has an Equal Opportunities Commission. It is a signatory to the following international treaties – Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the InternationalConvention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). These local and international laws require the HK government to stop discriminatory laws, policies or practices.In contrast to these commitments, the HK government has strictly enforced since 1987 the “New Conditions of Stay” (NCS) policy. The NCS specifically puts the FDWs in HK in a disadvantaged, unfair and discriminatory treatment, because they are women and foreigners. The restrictions imposed by the NCS on FDWs are not applied to other foreigners (‘expatriates’ or ‘professionals’) or women workers in Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China. Under the NCS, there is a “2-week rule” that forces FDWs to leave HK within 2 weeks of being terminated. The NCS also restricts us from changing employers without permission of the Immigration Department; it prohibits us from working in other types of (non-domestic helper) jobs; it disqualifies us from gaining residency after working and living for more than 7 years in HK; it prohibits us from bringing in our family members to stay and live with us in HK.The NCS violates CEDAW because it puts women in a disadvantaged position. NCS violates CERD because it is a form of racial discrimination. NCS violates ICESCR because it puts FDWs in worse treatment than other people in Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China.

    Since 1989, CMR or its members have campaigned for the scrapping of the NCS and 2-week rule. CMR continues until today to spearhead the campaign in Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China, as well as internationally. Our latest efforts are:

    • CMR was asked to speak at the 26 January 2007 CEDAW hearing organized by the HK government, and the 3 March 2007 hearing organized by the LegCo. CMR advocated for the scrapping of NCS and 2-week rule policy, and wage hike for FDWs. Several LegCo members spoke in support of the CMR position.
    • We held several dialogues with Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China legislators in 2006 and January-February 2007 on NCS and wage hike.
    • In all our public demonstrations every year (Mar. 8 – Women’s Day, May 1 – International Labour Day, Dec.18 – International Migrants’ Day), we constantly call for wage hike and protection of FDWs, the scrapping of NCS, and a stop to underpayment.
    • 36th Session of the CEDAW Committee (August 2006, New York) – CMR spoke and presented the FDW position against NCS and 2-week rule. The report of the CEDAW Committee supported the CMR position and called on the HK government to take efforts to end this policy.
    • International Labour Conference (2004, Geneva) and follow-up meetings in 2005 and 2006 – CMR and its union members represented FDWs, and spoke and submitted CMR position to scrap the NCS, labour protection for FDWs, wage hike, etc.
    • 2004-2005 – CMR met with the CERD and ICESCR Committees. The CERD and ICESCR Committees, in their separate reports, agreed that NCS is a discriminatory policy and asked the HK government to take positive steps to address this problem.
    • Annual meetings of United Nations agencies (e.g. Commission on Human Rights, International Labour Organisation, UNIFEM, etc.) – CMR and MFA partners highlight FDW and migrants’ issues and call for a stop to NCS and discrimination against migrants.

    But the HK government has remained deaf to our appeals in the past 15 years. The international human rights authorities have spoken and supported the FDWs! Therefore, the NCS is a big human rights “black eye” on HK, despite the multi-million publicity campaign of the HK government to showcase HK as a racially-harmonious world city.

    CMR calls on the HK government to:

    • Honor its legal and moral obligations under local and international laws; implement the recommendations of the CEDAW, CERD and ICESCR Committees.
    • Immediately scrap NCS and take positive steps to stop discrimination towards women and FDWs in Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China.
  2. RESTORE HK$3,860 MINIMUM WAGE! WAGE HIKE FOR FDWs!Each year, the Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China government reviews the minimum allowable wage (MAW) for FDWs. The MAW was first implemented in 1987. From 1987 to 1998, due to intense campaign by CMR members and advocates (esp. ADWU, AMC), the MAW increased steadily, until it reached its peak at HK$3,860 per month in 1998. From 1999 until 2003, two wage cuts and several wage freezes brought down the MAW to its lowest level of HK$3,270. The Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China government argued that FDWs had to share the burden of the economic crisis during that period.In the past two years, the HK government has proudly declared the impressive economic performance of the HK economy – which is now one of the strongest in Asia. Two minimal wage increases were given in 2005 and 2006, bringing the MAW to its current level of HK$3,400.The FDWs were among the first to sacrifice during times of economic hardship. During these past several years of strong economic performance, FDWs were among the slowest to benefit. FDW wages now are still below the 1993 level (of HK$3,500). It is less than half of the average monthly wage of workers in Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China.CMR submitted again its petition in January 2007 to the Legislative Council to immediately restore our minimum wage to HK$3,860. This is only to restore our wages to the 1998 (pre-wage cut) level.

  3. STOP UNDERPAYMENT OF FDWs! STOP OVERCHARGING BY RECRUITMENT AGENCIES!Underpayment is a blatant violation of HK laws. Yet, underpayment is one of the most widespread forms of abuse against FDWs in HK. At least 15% of all FDWs in HK are underpaid; the situation is worse for some nationalities, e.g. Indonesians, Nepalese, Sri Lankans. Almost 50% of all Indonesian FDWs continue to be underpaid, receiving only an average of HK$1,500-2,000/month.Closely linked to underpayment is the illegal practice of recruitment agencies to charge exorbitant recruitment/agency fees. Again, this is a blatant violation of HK laws which allow only 10% fees (HK$340) to be charged by recruiters; however, many agencies charge upwards of HK$9,000, explaining why many FDWs are underpaid or totally not paid for several months. This is equivalent to labour bondage, which is against international laws and the HK Bill of Rights.We therefore petition the HK government to:
    • Crack down, punish and blacklist guilty employers and/or recruitment agencies.
    • Use the employers’ levy to speedily compensate underpaid FDWs.
    • Officially designate the employers’ levy as a “Compensation Fund for FDWs”;
    • Use the employer’s levy to pay back (compensate) FDWs in cases of underpayment or violation of FDW employment contract;
    • Use the levy to provide daily living allowance for FDWs whose court cases extend more than one month. FDWs with court cases are not allowed to work/earn, and so they need legitimate means of support to survive and fight for their court case.
  4. USE THE EMPLOYERS’ LEVY AS A “COMPENSATION FUND” FOR FDWs!The HK Government imposed a levy on employers of FDWs in 2003 (they have been exempted from this levy since 1982). The levy fund is currently called and being used as a “fund for retraining local domestic helpers.” We are happy that our fellow local domestic workers benefit from the employer’s levy in the form of retraining subsidy. However, the levy must directly and primarily be used to protect the welfare of the workers themselves – FDWs in this case. This is in line with the principle that the employers should be directly responsible for the legitimate protection and welfare of their workers (FDWs).CMR therefore calls on the HK government to:
  5. WE FURTHER REITERATE THE FOLLOWING LONG-STANDING DEMANDS:
    • Include FDWs in universal social security protection!
    • Implement a just minimum wage for local workers, specifically local domestic workers!
    • Stop the ban on employing Nepalese FDWs in Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China!

Coalition for Migrants’ Rights (CMR)

CMR members: Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (IMWU),
Filipino Domestic Helpers General Union (FDHGU),
Association of Sri Lankans in Hong Kong (ASLHK),
Far East Overseas Nepalese Association (FEONA),
Indian Domestic Workers Association (IDWA),
Thai Women’s Association (TWA),
Asian Domestic Workers Union (ADWU),
KOTKIHO (The Hong Kong Coalition of Indonesian Migrant Organisations).

Supported by:
Asian Migrant Centre (AMC),
Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA),
Alliance of Progressive Labour (APL) and other signatories.

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MFA is a regional network of non-government organizations (NGOs), associations and trade unions of migrant workers, and individual advocates in Asia who are committed to protect and promote the rights and welfare of migrant workers.

It is guided by a vision of an alternative world system based on respect for human rights and dignity, social justice, and gender equity, particularly for migrant workers.

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