Non-governmental organization Amnesty International (AI) has told Lusa that the exploitation of domestic servants in Hong Kong and Macau is “modern slavery.”
In response to Lusa, AI explained that it has investigated the situation of domestic workers in Hong Kong, with “some similarities” found in Macau too, denouncing that “migrant domestic workers can be trapped in cycles of exploitation that are equivalent to modern slavery”.
“We are discriminated against, we have no rights, no health care system and no one listens to us,” Nedie Taberdo, president of the Green Migrant Workers Union of the Macau SAR, told Lusa.
Just over 450 euros (MOP4,085/US$505) per month is the minimum wage asked by the associations of domestic workers contacted by Lusa, in a territory considered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the second with the highest income per capita in the world.
The SAR is expected to dethroned Qatar next year, with its income per capita rising to 124,000 euros, almost triple the average of the more advanced economies like Australia, the United States, Austria, the United Kingdom and China.
A source at the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch, which identifies as a “global problem” the situation of migrant domestic workers in Asia, East Africa and the Middle East, told Lusa that “domestic workers are at high risk of overworking for long hours, without rest, and for a fraction of the minimum wage. “
“Gaps in legal protection make it easier for employers to abuse workers, and harder for workers to get help,” argued Human Rights Watch.
On the other hand, AI identified as the main problem the “lack of regulation of the agencies of placement of migrant domestic workers,” mainly from Indonesia.
During an AI’s survey in Hong Kong, the organisation found that these “agencies are routinely involved in trafficking in migrant domestic workers, exploiting them in conditions of forced labor,” and that they are “compelled to work in situations that violate their human and labour rights”.
In this investigation, AI says it has discovered cases of “confiscation of identity documents and restrictions on freedom of movement.”
In Macau, it is relatively common for families to employ a full-time domestic worker, and some of them live at home.
“We want domestic work to be respected with a normal contract so that we can live a decent life,” the Progressive Union of Domestic Workers’ President Jenny Simeon told Lusa, denouncing the existence of “employees earning MOP2,000 (US$247) to MOP3,000 per month.
Filipinos, Indonesians, Vietnamese, Nepalese and Thais are among the most unprotected groups in Macau: in the former territory administered by Portugal, maids contracts are done through an agency, or between the employer and the worker, and in practice the employer has the power to cancel the worker’s authorization to remain in the territory.
“If our employer wants to terminate our contract, we lose our ‘blue card’ [residence permit] and we have to start all over again,” explained Jenny Simeon.
Non-resident workers have to return to their country of origin for six months in case of termination of contract and in exceptional cases, such as unfair dismissal, they have six months to find a new job in Macau, but always in the same field.
“For them [bosses] we are not human, they do not understand our difficulties and that is why they do not respect us,” accused Jenny Simeon.
The two association leaders also pointed out the lack of interest shown by legislators and rulers in solving the problem and in proposing amendments to the law protecting the rights of domestic workers, by providing a decent living wage and an increase in housing allowance, which now stands at around 50 euros per month.
“Since I came to Macau 15 years ago, the economy has improved a lot, but nothing has changed,” said Nedie Taberdo, who has called for an increase in housing allowance for about 150 euros per month for several years.
Jenny Simeon assured that she had already been in meetings with the two main pro-democrat legislators in the city, Sulu Sou Ka Hou and José Pereira Coutinho, to discuss the minimum wage issue.
“They were very nice, but they said they could not do anything,” he said.