Domestic helpers you see every day are almost all in debt, some distressingly so, charity says

hsbc helpers
Helpers, most of whom are burdened with debt, gather on their day off under Hong Kong’s banking powerhouse, the HSBC headquarters            Photo: Asia Sentinel

Eighty-three per cent of Hong Kong’s 385,000 domestic workers are in debt, the charity, Enrich, says in its 2019 annual report. Helpers have to fight debts accruing interest up to 60 per cent a year, which is legal here. Enrich works to educate helpers on financial matters and says it has helped 20,000 since inception 12 years ago.

Half of the domestic helpers in Hong Kong have borrowed so they can get a job, the report says. Only 18 per cent have a bank account.  The charity calls for changes in the way Hong Kong legislates domestic work. “Hong Kong needs to act now to ensure it becomes an attractive destination city where helpers feel welcomed, respected and protected.”

Enrich holds financial literacy workshops for helpers and does one on one counselling. Sometimes it is able to help domestic workers before they have left their home countries and mentors them after arrival.  Half-day workshops and counselling sessions teach helpers about saving, budgeting, banking and investment. The courses also instruct them on how to speak up and stand up for themselves.  The workshops are heavily subsidised for migrant domestic workers at HK$30 per workshop. However, Enrich request employers to help cover the costs of the programme by sponsoring their helper for HK$500 per workshop or HK$2000 for the full 28-hour financial and empowerment education programme

The charity was founded in 2007 by Myriam Bartu, who said she was deeply disturbed that such a wealthy city had little support for financially vulnerable helpers. Myriam was joined in founding Enrich by Aruni John, an economist, and Sophie Paine, an accountant, who said she was moved by the ordeals faced by helpers trying to cope with huge debts.

If you wish to sponsor your helper,  donate or work with Enrich, see www.enrichhk.org.


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