GRSJ224/Discrimination Towards Filipinos and Indonesians in Hong Kong

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Foreign domestic helper carrying a child walks with another child outside a school in Hong Kong

In the mid-1970s, the Hong Kong government initiated a foreign-domestic-helper policy to support the poor economy faced by the Philippines and fill in the shortage for low skill labour in Hong Kong, in particularly domestic work. Despite their contribution to the economy of Hong Kong and freeing the time for local women to pursue their career, many of these migrant domestic workers (MDW) face harsh treatment from their employers, domestic violence and abuse, low monthly income, to poor living conditions. Study reveals 95% of Filipinos and Indonesians helpers are exploited or forced labour[1] .Moreover, various forms of social stratification, including race, class, and gender encountered by MDW has caused them to be devalued in Hong Kong society. As Racism and discrimination are evident towards South East Asians particularly towards female Filipinos and Indonesians as they are currently the dominant demographics in the occupation. Despite some having college degrees or high school educations, it became very difficult for them to climb up the social ladder. 


To many foreigners from the developing countries, Hong Kong was a migration-to-transition location for ones who believe it could be a stepping stone to a third country such as Canada or the United States [2]. Particularly, many young single educated migrants from the Philippines began flushing into the city since the 1980s [2]. Due to an ageing population and increase of women joining the workforce, there was an increase of demand for domestic workers to take care of elderlies, children, and household chores. In which provided opportunities for foreigners to attend the cheap labor. In 1982, 20,959 migrant domestic workers were legally registered in Hong Kong, growing to 141,368 in the 1990s, 202,900 in the 2000s accounting for 41% of the foreign population, and 320,000 in 2013. One out of every eight households or three households with children employs a MDW dominantly from the Philippines or Indonesia. Their occupation was also one of the lowest paid job in Hong Kong; with the minimum wage of HK$30/hour, the Minimum Allowable Wage law ensured the minimum for MDW a $25/hour salary[3] .

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih pictured last January while in hospital in Sragen, Central Java in Indonesia, where she was cared for by her parents. Photo: Sam Tsang

Modern Day Slaves

MDW is seen as the modern-day slaves (cite)[4][5] due to their cruel living environment, long hours of overwork, and lack of government supervision towards physical, sexual, and psychological violence and abuse. Particularly, intimidation, pinching, and body touching are the most common types of abuse. As tasks of domestic workers are considered dirty jobs, many employers hold the belief that they could be treated badly. One of the worst case was faced by 23-year-old Erwiana Sulistyaningsih [6] who was beaten daily with clothe hangers, mops, and other stiff items until she was unable to walk, her hands and feet were also severely burnt by acidic chemicals.

Social Discrimination

South East Asians in Hong Kong has long faced discrimination in their daily lives, from occupation, accommodation, to education opportunities, citizens have treated them with lack of respect and devalued solely due to their ethnicity.Statistically, 99.6% of female Indonesians and 96.9% female Filipinos in Hong Kong works as domestic workers [7] Among them, 45.5% and 86.9% has attended upper secondary or post secondary education respectively[7]. Despite their sufficient skillset and knowledge, receiving an job interview outside of their elementary field is exceptionally difficult as they are characterized as less educated and lack language speaking skills [8]. Seeking a place for accommodation was also an issue where landlords stigmatize South East Asians as poor and unable to pay stable rent. Such evident discrimination is due to the ethnic stratification by Chinese who believe other ethnic groups have a lower status than themselves[9].

  1. Kang, John (March 18, 2016). "Study Reveals 95% Of Filipino, Indonesian Helpers In Hong Kong Exploited Or Forced Labor". Forbes.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Wee & Sim (2015). "Hong Kong as a destination for migrant domestic workers". Marshall Cavendish Singapore.
  3. "Legal Issues". HK Helpers Campaign.
  4. Constable (1997). Maid to Order in Hong Kong: Stories of Filipina workers.
  5. Fraser, Niall (December 20, 2017). "Spare me the crocodile tears, Hong Kong's treatment of domestic workers is modern slavery". South China Morning Post.
  6. "Hong Kong's Hidden Shame". AP Migration.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Thematic Report: Ethnic Minorities" (PDF). Statistics Government Hong Kong. 2011.
  8. Flowerdew, J., Li, D. C., & Tran, S. (May 1, 2002). "Discriminatory news discourse: some Hong Kong data". Sage.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. "Situation of racial discrimination in Hong Kong - A background paper for the Social Science Forum held on 1 November 2001". CityU. November 1, 2001.