A “local” speaks out for the “migrants”

She is the Chairperson of the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions, and a local domestic worker - she is Po Lai Wan, usually known as “Bobo”.

On 15 August, FADWU met the Labor Department to discuss the Minimum Allowable Wage of Migrant Domestic Workers, and she was one of the representatives. As a local worker, Bobo knows a lot about the condition of migrant domestic workers.

‘Why am I concerned about migrant domestic workers? Because I have been a live-in domestic worker myself,” she said clearly. “At that time,” she said, “I didn’t have any freedom, just like migrant domestic workers nowadays.” She was 24-hours on call 6 days a week, and even on her holiday, there were some rules: "I went out for my holiday at 8 p.m. on every Saturday, and I would have to go back home (i.e. to the workplace) by 8 p.m. on Sunday. So I just slept at my sister’s home once a week for the holiday.” She added: “I suppose it was better than what migrant domestic workers have now, as they cannot even meet their relatives on their holiday.”

As a local worker, her consideration for migrant domestic workers came from her own experience. This also makes Po a different kind of union leader. Listening to her, we can understand the meaning of “solidarity”.

According to a survey, live-in domestic workers work for 12-16 hours per day on average. As times goes by, the economy grows, and full time domestic work is no longer an attractive choice for local females. It raises the demand for full-time migrant domestic workers. Almost 300,000 of them now take care of local families’ housework, childcare as well as elderly care needs, thus releasing labour power for the Hong Kong economy.

The difference in status between “local” and “migrant” has always been a tool of the government to divide workers. They always claim that the restriction on migrant domestic workers is “for the local domestic workers.” Facing the Assistant Commissioner of the Labour Department, she replied clearly: “As a local domestic worker, I think that the job market between migrant and local domestic workers is different, they are not competitive with each other."

Listening to translations in an English-speaking meeting with migrant workers and the Labour Department, Bobo is always able to catch the point and ask further questions. As a union leader, she has also joined the Social Affairs Committee of HKCTU.