Many Hong Kong families rely on Filipino helpers to cook, clean and look after their children. But could that ready supply of domestic support be about to be diverted to major cities in mainland China? That was the fear in the Hong Kong press after a comment from the Philippines Labour Department that discussions were underway with Beijing to legalise the employment of Filipino domestic helpers in five Chinese cities.
According to the Philippine Star, the country’s deputy minister of labour said a deal could be agreed as early as next month to allow the nation’s nannies to work for families in the designated cities, which will include Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
One of the reasons for concern in Hong Kong is that the planned minimum wage is Rmb8,000 ($1,198) a month, more than double the minimum paid to helpers in Hong Kong, prompting predictions that Filipino maids will head north of the border.
The Hong Kong Economic Times notes the move comes as economic relations between China and the Philippines continue to improve under President Rodrigo Duterte (who, unlike his predecessor, has downplayed territorial disputes in the South China Sea in favour of seeking Chinese investment).
The Apple Daily notes there is already a black market in Filipino labour, who earn (illegally) as much as Rmb5,900 a month in Shanghai. There is a preference for Filipino helpers in China, in part because mainland families feel they will improve their children’s English language skills. However, the Hong Kong newspaper also notes that it is becoming harder to find local nannies because many of the Chinese born into the one-child generation don’t want this type of work. Another complaint is that those locals who do get hired “lack respect for their employers and professional ethics, so foreign maids enjoy a higher reputation,” Apple Daily suggests.
Indeed, there has been no shortage of negative news on ‘local’ nannies in the Chinese press in recent years. The most shocking instance occurred last month when a maid with a gambling addiction set fire to her employer’s apartment, leading to the deaths of a mother and her three children (see WiC373).
The Apple Daily notes that the nanny concerned earned Rmb7,500 a month, far higher than her Hong Kong equivalent. “If foreign maids are allowed to work legally, they will be extremely sought after,” it says. “After Filipino maids amass experience in the mainland, their career prospects will be far better than in Hong Kong and perhaps in the future only a very small number of them will be willing to come to work in Hong Kong.”
Should that prove to be the case it could lead to more resentment among Hongkongers towards their mainland brethren– a trend that has been escalating over the past five years and become a source of concern for Beijing.
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