It’s Sunday near Hong Kong Central station and thousands of Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers line public walkways socialising with one another on this, their one day off.
It’s something of a bizarre sight to see so many women sat around on flattened cardboard boxes chatting and picnicking with one another. Of course, local Hong Kong residents have long been used to seeing the weekly crowds of maids who are, for the most part, invisible every other day of the week.
There around 285,000 foreign domestic helpers living and working in Hong Kong, and most are either from the Philippines or Indonesia. With such high numbers it’s impossible for any one space to provide an adequate venue for this weekly gathering, so the crowds simply gather in the public spaces around Hong Kong Central, Victoria Park and the cities Cultural Centre.
Controversially, the Hong Kong government tried stopping the maids from gathering in public spaces and instead attempted to have them congregate in a large underground car park. This failed and is now often cited by maids as evidence that they are looked upon as second class citizens. Indeed, foreign domestic helpers are specifically refused Hong Kong residency despite laws that allow any foreign worker to make an application for residency after seven years.
In a country that regards itself as superior to mainland China because of its rule of law, open markets, and respect for human rights, this issue may very well put those ideals to the test in front of a global audience.