Hong Kong domestic workers fight for day off amid infection fears

Domestic workers in Hong Kong typically only have one day off each week – Sunday.

On this contractually-stipulated rest day, the city’s large parks and roads are transformed into hives of activity, alive with dance routines, karaoke, games, video calls and prayers.

As the women’s government-mandated contracts require they live with their employer, the city’s public spaces provide them with important leisure areas that they do not have at home.

But as the coronavirus spreads, their right to a day spent beyond the confines of their workplace is being challenged.

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Last week the Hong Kong Labour Department issued a statement calling for foreign domestic workers to “stay home on their rest day” to minimise the virus spread. The statement, along with Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s comments in its support, has been criticised by advocacy groups who say the guidance is discriminatory and unfairly targets domestic workers.

In a statement provided to Al Jazeera, the International Migrants Alliance said they received reports last Sunday that many employers had denied workers their rest day and “some were even threatened with contract termination” if they insisted on going out on their only day off.

‘Extra hygiene measures’
“Some FDWs (foreign domestic workers) were required by their employers to immediately take a bath, hand-wash their clothes and use alcohol all over their bodies for sanitation immediately after they arrived in the house from taking their rest day,” the IMA said, adding that some workers were also required to clean more often “as part of extra hygiene measures”.

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