Sep 13, 2007

Filipina Domestic Workers Hong Kong China

It’s Sunday and jet lag is working in my favor so I am up early to catch a ferry bound for Lantau Island to get a head start on the weekend crowds. Shortly after descending into Hong Kong’s Central District for the first time I notice hundreds of women laying blankets or pieces of cardboard boxes on sidewalks. Is this some type of sit in like protest in the making or the prelude to a weekend event? Eager to catch the boat I keep moving.

The crowd of women has reached a critical mass when I return in the late afternoon. The powerful sound of thousands of female voices speaking in a tonal tongue unfamiliar to me resonates. It’s not Cantonese because they are not Chinese.

The women line the overhead walkways, which traverse Hong Kong Island’s Central District, four and five deep. They also fill Exchange and Statue Squares. Small cottage industries have sprouted on the concrete ranging from make shift nail salons to food and clothing sold swap meet style. The mood is festive, music is playing and some women dance.

The next morning when I report to work colleagues explain this is how Hong Kong’s domestic helpers, often referred to locally as Amahs and who are predominantly Filipina and female, spend their one day off every Sunday.

The lives of domestic workers in Hong Kong resemble something like this: They live with their employers and work morning until night six days a week. They wear many hats; nanny, cook, house keeper and also run errands. They keep the households of well heeled Hong Kongers and privileged ex-pats running for paltry pay. Room and board are provided and they are typically paid a mandated minimum wage of HK$3,480, about $450 a month.

More often than not these women are well educated and fluent in English but due to the dire state of job opportunities in The Philippines they seek overseas employment. Many have children they have left behind with family and send back a large portion of their wages to support them all. They are the migrant workers of Hong Kong.

In 2006 overseas Filipina workers worldwide sent over US$10 billion home accounting for 11% of the country’s GDP, according to the Asia Sentinel.


Anonymous said...

The Filipinas will work 'anywhere'.
God bless them!

There's also a lot of them working 'unofficially' on tourist visas in mainland china, where the affluent like to have english speaking domestics and nannies.
These jobs are usually found by 'word of mouth', friends or relatives tell somebody back home about a couple 'looking'.
The girl arrives on a tourist visa...which is renewed in Macao before it expires.

I have one Pinay friend who has been in an asian city, legally, working as a nanny since age 19.
She's 35 now. Has been 'home' once.

Wendy said...


Thanks for sharing your insight. You also reminded me of the Macau "loophole." I've had colleagues make the day trip there by ferry to do the same while they were waiting for working papers to get sorted out.

Anrosh said...

slavery, in another name.

Thelma said...

Dear Wendy,
Thanks for your blg regarding your experience in Hong Kong and your obserrvation about the Fiipina Domestic Helper.

I used to work in HK for 10 years as a maid, and during the time that I was there, I was able to to establish a charity Foundation for children and school in the Philippines.I co-produced a play called Migrant Collective that potrays the lives of domestic helpers and was aired in TVB Pearl in HK, RTHK and Time Magazine Online.

As you mentioned to your blog, the OFW's or Overseas Filipino Workers remitted billion of dollars every year..this is true..and without the OFW's, the Philipine's economy will not be able to survive.

Though I left Hong Kong for the past 6 months, my heart still remains to my friends and in Hong Kong. Hong Kong became my stepping stone of where I am right now. am able to pursue my long awaited dream to come to college in America throuh my former's employer sponsorship.

GOD bless all the Filipinos around the world for making the Philippine's economy afloat.

Wendy said...

Thank you for finding this post and taking the time to comment on your experience in Hong Kong. I'm glad that you are pursuing your dreams and that Hong Kong was a part of that. I wish you much success and happiness and hope you are enjoying life in the U.S.

Thelma said...

Hi Wendy,
Are you in New York, I am currently in California and I co-produced a play with a freind from New York named Sarabeth Berman.

I would like to share this video clippins with you if you are interested.

I am currently working on about about International Students and a film documentary regarding our challenges in here.

I hope to hear from you soon.


Thelma said...

As a former Filipina Domestic Helper in Hong Kong for 10 years, here's a link you may want to read more about our life.,8599,1631512,00.html

Wendy said...

Hi Thelma,
I am in New York. I would like to hear more about the play, documentary as well as your charity. Please e-mail me at

EL APOSTOL said...

Hi Wendy,

Just found your blog - I've been to Hong Kong many times for my job - and it always makes me sad to see so many women with great potential. Some use Hong Kong as a stepping stone to come to Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program of Immigration Canada.

This program allows foreign nationals to apply to Canada on a temporary work permit. After working as a live-in for 24months, they can apply to be a resident. As long as paper work is in place - permanent residency is granted usually between 6-15months.

Minimum requirements -- at least 72units (completed second year college in the Philippines) one year full-time paid experience, or 6month caregiver course.

There's been a huge increase in women applying for this program, but most don't research their options and end up paying an agency a lot of money, but only to arrive in Canada with no job.

Many of the women in Hong Kong look forward to a better life, but often put their family's needs first before their own.

They are very hard working - always willing to please... but end up being abused, both by working conditions and from their own family.

Thanks for the post

Wendy said...


Glad you found your way here. Thanks for brining to my attention the program in Canada. I was not aware of it. I'm learning a lot from the comments on this post and appreciate you taking the time to share info.

Helly said...

Great blog! I currently live in HK after spending a year in the Philippines working with children who work as domestic helpers. Loved your pics of a typical HK Sunday -- I love the chatter of Filipina workers and the aroma of pancit vitalizing with city every Sunday.

Wendy said...

Hi Helly,
thank you. Sounds like you do interesting work. Please give my regards to Hong Kong. Would love to be riding the slow ferry to Lantau right now.

Thelma said...

Hi Wendy,
I met Helly in Hong Kong last year. She is a freind of Sarabeth, my co-producer and Director of the play about Domestic Helper in Hong Kong. Sarabeth is now in Beijing but she studied in Barnard College.
She and Helly were scholars of Asia Foundation.
Isn't amazing to get connected thru blog?

Wendy said...

Hi Thelma,
nice to hear from you. It is amazing to get connected through this blog.

francesbean said...

Visiting Hong Kong as a child, I was shocked to see this as well. Come Sunday, these ladies are sprawled on every available space. It's saddening for they are my countrymen, but it really cannot be helped. Filipinos work anywhere, and in the few countries that I've visited, I would always always see a familiar and friendly Filipino face. Most of them are blue collar workers.

Wendy said...

glad you found your way here and thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I am an ex-pat Working in Hong Kong for the next year. To put a little different spin on this story, I found the love of my life in a philipina domestic worker. I am a divorced middle aged american man who thought he was going to be lonely for the rest of my life after leaving an abusive woman. My soon to be wife adores me and worships me. I have met her family and I am totally in love with the philipine culture. I came to Hong Kong to work and found love.

conner holmes said...

Hong Kong Domestic Helpers Agency should be guided as to other advantages: such as long-term growth, training and a good working relationship.

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