HELP: Where are you from and how long have you been in Hong Kong?
I am from a small town near Richmond, Virginia in the USA. I have been in Hong Kong for a little over a year now working with HELP.
Tell us about your first encounter with a domestic worker.
Before I came to Hong Kong I had never heard of a domestic worker. I thought that having a live in maid was a thing of the past. When I got my placement I emailed back something along the lines of “....sounds great! But what’s a domestic worker?”
My first encounter with a domestic worker was when I first got to Hong Kong. Most people don’t have domestic workers where I come from so it was shocking to see so many women sitting together under the HSBC building when I went to St John’s Cathedral on my first Sunday here. My first personal connection with a domestic worker was on one of my first days at HELP when I sat in on an interview with Raquel.
How did you get involved with HELP?
I got involved with HELP through the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC), which is a program that sends young people aged 21-30 abroad to do charity work through the Anglican Communion.
I didn’t get to choose where I went, but rather I told YASC that I feel passionate about women’s issues and social justice. They thought that HELP and Hong Kong would be a good fit and I couldn’t agree more.
HELP: Why do you feel supporting domestic workers, and HELP, is so important?
I feel that supporting domestic workers is important because the women we work with come here because they want to work, and earn a living. There are any number of things that could happen along the way, that could prevent them from doing so and then they are on the back foot.
Supporting domestic workers is important because they are people in Hong Kong just like me, hopeful to earn a better living than staying in their home country. As an expat I really feel empathy with domestic workers because I wouldn't know my rights as a worker either unless someone explained them to me. I have no legal background so I really feel empathy when women come to the office needing an explanation of their rights under the law.
HELP is an organisation that is supporting domestic workers and making sure they are on an equal playing field with other workers in Hong Kong. We are working to make sure that every domestic worker knows their rights and feels confident asking for those things which they have earned.
From your work with HELP, what do you think are the most common issues domestic workers in Hong Kong are facing?
It seems to me the two most common issues domestic workers face are unsuitable accommodation and unreasonable working hours.
I know that housing in Hong Kong is often tight, but everyone is entitled to a good night’s sleep and time off to themselves. I have talked to women who have to sleep on the floor, in kitchens or in bathrooms and I find this completely unreasonable. If you find you need a domestic worker, then it is your duty as an employer to make sure she has good food, a place to lay her head, and reasonable working hours . Nobody can work for 12 hours with only a lunch break, so you shouldn’t monitor every waking minute of your domestic worker’s duties. Domestic workers are not only their job, so they should have time to pursue interests outside of work.
A large part I think, is that people sometimes forget to open up, communicate with each other and be honest. If you don’t want your boss to ask you to work long hours, why would you ask it of your domestic worker? If you don’t want your boss to ask you to work on your day off, why would you tell your employee to do so?
What’s one thing you’ve learnt about yourself/Hong Kong through your work with HELP?
I’ve learnt that I truly cannot stand bullies. I have seen so many people come to conciliation meetings expecting that our clients, domestic workers, will simply roll over and give up, it makes my blood boil.
I’ve also learnt that there’s an incredible amount of wage disparity in Hong Kong. There is quite a lot of wage disparity in the USA, but in many ways it is less obvious to me. It is shocking to me how often people who we know make very high salaries scrimp when it comes to their domestic worker’s entitlements and this really upsets me.
What do you wish the public knew about domestic workers in Hong Kong?
I wish people knew that power dynamics or cultural differences may be taking place when your worker says “yes” to you. It could be when you ask her to work first thing in the morning before she leaves on her day off, that she has just heard about her friend being fired for saying no to such a request.
I think it’s important for the public to remember the power dynamics at play when you are with your domestic worker. It’s a thin line because often the domestic worker in your house will feel like family.
What advice do you have for domestic workers who are being mistreated?
I hear many people who come to the office and say “I’m only a helper” but you aren’t only anything! You are a person with history and feelings and you are so much more than your job. You do not deserve to be mistreated no matter what the circumstances are. Speak up and know that you are worthy. When you need help, just ask for it. There are people in Hong Kong who want to help you if and however much you need it.
What do you do in your free time? Do you have a family?
In Hong Kong my only biological family is my older brother Justin. I feel blessed to have him around, especially when I am feeling homesick. I have a loving mother and father, as well as an amazing younger brother and two older sisters who are back in the USA.
I also love to knit, paint and do other crafts. Currently, I am working on a pair of socks for a loved one. I find that knitting relaxes me after a long day and is a good way to feel productive even if I’m just watching a movie after I get home at night.
I have also found family in Hong Kong in my rugby club, Valley RFC. I have played rugby for more than four years and now take part in Valley’s premiership side. Rugby has connected me to so many wonderful people in Hong Kong and has provided an outlet for my frustrations and kept me focused. I couldn’t be more thankful for the connections I have made through the club.
I also play rugby with a team of domestic workers some Sundays, called Exiles in Hong Kong. I enjoy playing with them and feel lucky to have made that connection.
Adrienne Davis is an Episcopal missionary from the Young Adult Service Corp. She graduated with honours in religious studies from the University of Mary Washington. At HELP, she runs tech support on a daily basis and manages special projects.