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Last Updated:  Sunday, 23 February, 2003, 13:06 GMT
HK maids march against pay cuts
Protesters carrying signs reading 'no to levy'
The protesters were clear about their demands
Thousands of foreign domestic workers have protested in Hong Kong against government plans to reduce pay and increase taxes for maids.

Migrant workers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka chanted slogans and waved banners declaring "No to Levy, No to Wage Cuts" as they marched from Victoria Park to government headquarters.

There the crowd was boosted as maids gathered in the Central district for their weekly day off joined the rally.

Organisers said more than 12,000 people took part in the demonstration while police said about 8,000 people were involved.

'Exploitation'

The domestic helpers are angry at reported government plans to levy a new charge of HK$9,600 (US$1,232) on each standard two-year contract for overseas servants.

We are the lowest paid already, so why tax and target this specific group?
Connie Bragas-Regaldo,
Protest organiser
While employers would pay the fee initially, it is expected that the levy would be passed on to the maids, who could see their minimum monthly salary cut by HK$400 - or more than 10% - to $3,270.

Protest organiser Connie Bragas-Regaldo said: "The tax and wage cuts are unjust, discriminatory and exploitative.

"The government just wants to impose the tax on the poorest members of society so it can address the budget deficit.

"We are the lowest paid already, so why tax and target this specific group?"

Key service

The levy on the 240,000 foreign domestic helpers working in Hong Kong would raise about HK$1.4bn for the government's coffers.

A protester
Domestic helpers have had no wage rise since 1997

The administration of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa is battling a ballooning deficit and a 6% pay cut has been announced for civil servants.

Correspondents say foreign maids are a key part of Hong Kong's society, providing cheap childcare and housekeeping for the middle classes.

The domestic helpers - who are subject to strict working contracts - have received no pay increase since 1997. Wages were cut by 5% in 1999.

The pay issue has caused tension between Hong Kong and the Philippines - the home country of the majority of maids - with Manila sending several envoys to lobby against any levy.

The new charges may be announced in next month's government budget.



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SEE ALSO:
Hong Kong 'must economise'
08 Jan 03 |  Business
Currency fears plague Hong Kong
25 Oct 02 |  Business
Hong Kong battles with recession
11 Jul 02 |  Business


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