Friday, 30 September 2011

Legal Validation

A maid in Hong Kong won the right for permanent residency today in the high court -- a decision that polarized public opinion over the rights of domestic workers.

Evangeline Banao Vallejos has lived in Hong Kong since 1986 and she applied for permanent residency because she had lived in the city for over seven years. But she was rejected on the grounds that she was a domestic worker.

So she took the government to court. Her argument was then how come foreign expatriates like bankers and cooks can get permanent residency then?

Meanwhile the government countered domestic helpers do not pay any tax now so why should they be entitled to the benefits of permanent residents? There was also the fear that the sudden influx of people would strain the city's health care, public housing and education resources. Domestic helpers make up about 4 percent of the population.

However Judge Johnson Lam ruled in her favour, saying that preventing anyone who has lived continuously in Hong Kong for seven years to right of abode was unconstitutional under the Basic Law.

It could mean foreign helpers would be entitled to the minimum wage of HK$28 per hour, and so their monthly salaries would significantly increase from the HK$3,740 ($480.35) they are currently lawfully entitled to.

Of course the government was upset by the decision and has already decided to appeal.

The battle isn't over yet, but it is a significant victory for foreign helpers.

When I told one colleague about the verdict, she immediately called her helper to tell her the news. But she didn't seem to understand the implications and declared that she only wanted to stay with my colleague because they were "family".

I spoke to another friend's maid about the issue over a month ago and she didn't seem to care about the case. "I don't want to stay here," she said. "I want to go back to the Philippines."

While some domestic workers may not understand or realize the implications of the verdict, it's a ruling that indicates everyone is equal under the law.

If the government's appeal fails, foreign maids who have lived here for seven years now have a choice to continue living here or not, and hopefully society will finally begin to appreciate the work they do in contributing to Hong Kong's economy.

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