‘Covid-hit helpers must not be left on streets’

A support group for migrant workers urged the government to take responsibility for foreign domestic helpers who contracted Covid-19, amid reports that women had been fired and turned out of their homes after positive tests.

Several concern groups have reported at least ten cases of foreign domestic workers having their contracts terminated after a positive test, finding themselves stranded in hospitals, ineligible for public healthcare or even sleeping on the streets.

The Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU) said it had been helping one of those in need, a domestic worker called J. She contacted the group at midnight on February 15, reporting that she’d left her previous job and had her visa application for a new job denied. Because domestic workers must live with their employers, this left her homeless.

The group said J later tested preliminary positive for the virus and sought medical attention at a hospital, but was turned away because she was not displaying symptoms and was asked to self-isolate at home instead.

With nowhere to go, the group said the migrant worker was left out in the cold until she turned to FADWU for shelter.

Speaking at a media briefing among other non-governmental organisations, Jec Sernande, secretary of FADWU, said authorities should step in to prevent any helper from having to sleep on the streets.

“[For] example, for the worker that we had rescued, she had no place, she’s staying on the streets, because the government didn’t provide a place for [her] for home quarantine,” she said.

“Because if we allow them to stay on the streets, and there’s no place for us to provide for them, they will infect more people in the park, especially that is a public place.”

In response, the Labour Department said employers should not fire domestic workers who had contracted Covid.

It said, according to the Employment Ordinance, an employer can only terminate the contract during the worker’s sick leave if that individual had committed very serious misconduct.

The department also noted that an employer should provide free-of-charge and suitable accommodation, and pay for the infected foreign domestic worker’s medical expenses, as stated in the Standard Employment Contract.

As for infected migrant workers without a contract, the Labour Department said it has liaised with relevant consulates to arrange for isolation or treatment facilities.