英文

Editorial:Shortage of Foreign Domestic Helpers

【明報專訊】THE pandemic situation outside Hong Kong is severe. The Hong Kong government has successively barred passenger planes from the Philippines and Indonesia from arriving in Hong Kong in accordance with the place-specific flight suspension mechanism. Many foreign domestic helpers have been unable to come to Hong Kong to work. The government faces a dilemma about whether to relax entry restrictions to alleviate the shortage of foreign domestic helpers.

Covid-19 variants are wreaking havoc on the world. In recent months, the pandemic situation in Southeast Asia has intensified as well. Recently, the daily number of confirmed cases in Indonesia has shot up to nearly 40,000. The situation in the Philippines has also attracted attention. Hong Kong's defence against imported cases was fraught with loopholes at one point. In a stepped-up effort to close these loopholes, the authorities introduced a number of measures, one of which was the place-specific flight suspension mechanism. If a designated number of passengers arriving in Hong Kong from a certain region are diagnosed with a COVID-19 variant within a week, the Hong Kong government will bar all passenger flights from this region from arriving in Hong Kong. In view of a string of COVID-19 diagnoses of foreign domestic helpers after their arrivals in Hong Kong, the government issued bans on passenger flights from the Philippines and Indonesia in April and June respectively in accordance with the place-specific flight suspension mechanism.

There are hundreds of thousands of foreign domestic helpers working in Hong Kong. At its peak, the number was close to 400,000. Early last year, the pandemic broke out, and the number of foreign domestic helpers arriving in Hong Kong tumbled due to quarantine measures. Now that foreign domestic helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia cannot come to Hong Kong, it is inevitable that the shortage of labour has become even more serious. Some agencies estimate that since the implementation of the flight ban, more than 5,000 foreign domestic helpers with visas have been unable to come to Hong Kong. They hope that the government will relax the restrictions. The Filipino authorities have recently contacted the Hong Kong government to discuss the issue of Filipino residents' and workers' travel to and from Hong Kong. It has attracted much attention whether the Hong Kong government will lift the restrictions and adjust the extremely high-risk classification currently given the Philippines. The Secretary for Labour and Welfare has merely said that the Hong Kong government has been closely monitoring the pandemic situations in Indonesia and the Philippines, adding that continuous exploration and study will be needed to determine whether there is room for adjustments to entry restrictions.

Many families in Hong Kong need to hire foreign domestic helpers. In addition to helping with daily chores, they also take care of the elderly, children, and the disabled in the family. The fact that demand for foreign domestic helpers is outstripping supply has had a great impact on these families. Some employers are at a loss because their newly hired foreign domestic helpers have been unable to come to Hong Kong because of the travel bans. Some foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong have taken the opportunity to hold out for a better deal, demanding a monthly salary of more than $7000 and even making it clear that they will not take care of the elderly and infants. Some lawmakers have asked whether it is possible to introduce domestic helpers from mainland China. However, even if we put aside potential social issues such as sham marriages and illegal workers, it is still highly questionable how many mainlanders will be willing to come to Hong Kong to work as a domestic helper for $4000 or so per month given the salary levels on the mainland.

The pandemic situation outside Hong Kong is urgent. If the vaccination rate in Hong Kong reaches 70% to 80% so much so that a formidable wall of defence against the virus comes into existence, no doubt Hong Kong can reopen its doors to foreign domestic helpers, and the shortage of labour will be solved. Unfortunately, the reality is that the vaccination rate in Hong Kong has not even reached 40%.

Now the SAR government is considering allowing Hong Kong citizens who are currently in high-risk regions to return to Hong Kong on the basis of vaccination.The relaxation of entry restrictions must be done in a cautious manner. Hong Kong should wait until its vaccination rate has risen further. We can consider accepting the arrivals of other foreign domestic helpers who are vaccinated against COVID-19 only when the time is ripe.

明報社評 2021.07.15:先讓打針港人歸來 「外傭荒」短期要忍耐

外圍疫情嚴重,港府按航班熔斷機制,先後禁止菲律賓及印尼客機抵港,不少外傭無法來港工作,政府應否放寬入境限制紓緩「外傭荒」,成為兩難課題。

變種病毒肆虐全球,近月東南亞疫情亦見加劇,最近印尼單日確診病例直線上升,直逼4萬宗,菲律賓疫情同樣惹人關注。本港外防輸入一度甚多甩漏,當局為了加強防堵,引入多項措施,其中之一是航班「熔斷機制」,同一地區抵港的民航客機,如在7天內指定數目乘客確診感染變異病毒,港府將禁止當地所有民航客機抵港。鑑於一再有外傭抵港後確診,今年4月和6月,港府根據「熔斷機制」,先後向菲律賓和印尼民航客機發出禁飛令。

在港工作外傭數以十萬計,高峰時直逼40萬人。去年初疫情爆發,受檢疫措施影響,來港外傭數目驟降,現在菲印兩國外傭無法來港,人力市場供求自然更為緊張。外傭中介組織估計,禁飛令實施以來,逾5000名有簽證的外傭無法來港,希望政府放寬限制,菲律賓當局最近亦接觸港府,討論當地居民及工人往返香港的問題。港府會否「開閘」,以及調整目前菲律賓的極高風險評級,備受關注,勞福局長僅表示,港府一直密切留意印菲疫情,是否有空間調整入境限制,需要繼續探討研究。

本港不少家庭需要聘請外傭,除了協助處理日常家務,更是為了照顧家中老幼殘弱,外傭供不應求,對這些家庭確有很大影響,有僱主便因為新聘外傭受禁飛令影響無法來港,大失預算;亦有在港外傭趁機「跳草裙舞」開天索價,要求逾7000元月薪,甚至表明不會照顧長者嬰兒。有議員提出是否可以引入內傭(從內地引入傭工),惟即使不考慮假結婚、黑工等容易衍生的潛在社會問題,以現時內地的工資水平,到底有多少人願意接受4000多元月薪來港任職家傭,也是一大疑問。

外圍疫情風高浪急,如果本港疫苗接種率達到七八成,全面形成強力疫苗保護屏障,當然有條件為外傭來港重開方便之門,解決人手荒,可惜現實是本港接種率目前還未及四成。

現在港府考慮以打針為基礎,容許高風險地區香港居民回港。放寬入境限制,必須慎重,應待香港疫苗接種率進一步提升,時機成熟,再考慮是否接納其他已完成疫苗接種的外傭來港。

■/ Glossary 生字 /

wreak /riːk/

to do great damage or harm to sb/sth

fraught /frɔːt/

filled with sth unpleasant

loophole /ˈluːphəʊl/

a mistake in the way a law, contract, etc. has been written which enables people to legally avoid doing sth that the law, contract, etc. had intended them to do

■英語社評聲檔:link.mingpao.com/53000.htm

上 / 下一篇新聞