HONG KONG MAIDS PROTEST WAGE CUT  

Hong Kong, March 3, 2003 -- Hundreds of disgruntled foreign maids took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to protest against a cut in their minimum wage.

Hong Kong, battling to close a gaping budget deficit, announced last week it would impose a HK$400 (US$50) monthly levy on employers of the 240,000 foreign maids in the territory from October.

Many foreign maids fear they will effectively be paying the levy out of their own pockets as the government is also slashing the HK$3,670 minimum monthly wage for foreign maids by HK$400.

"Wage cut cruel and unjust!" said one of the placards brandished by some 400 demonstrators as they marched through the Central business district.

"No to levy!" chanted the maids mostly from the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and the subcontinent.

The demonstrators threw darts at photographs of Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa and other senior officials. One tore up pictures in tears.

The government says the maid levy will encourage employers to hire local help and the proceeds will be used for training programs for workers in Hong Kong.

Foreign maids, who free local women from their homes to join the workforce, are among the lowest-paid employees in Hong Kong and work up to 15 hours a day.

Many send most or all of their earnings back home to support their families, contributing significantly to their country's balance of payments.

Many maids in Hong Kong do not even get the minimum wage. The government does not strictly enforce the mandatory wage level, and maids do not report their employers for fear they will lose their jobs or be sent back home.

The levy has become highly emotional and divisive in an economy where unemployment is near record levels and many families need two breadwinners to make ends meet.

Foreign maids are increasingly being blamed for taking jobs from locals.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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