Loretta works at least 15 hours a day, six days a week. She lives with her employer, sleeping on a sofa in the bedroom of his six-year-old son.
She has no privacy, eats the leftovers from the meals she cooks for her employer and has just one day off a week.
In the West, her working conditions would be deemed almost slave labor. But in Hong Kong and other Asian countries, they are not unusual for a maid.
"I have lots of friends who live like this," said the 38-year-old Filipina who has worked as a maid in Hong Kong for 12 years.
"For some things are better. For others it is worse. We put up with it because there is always someone else waiting to step in and work for less," she said.
Loretta's situation echoes throughout the region among thousands of women who leave their countries to work as maids in more affluent neighboring countries.
For many, these jobs bring a regular wage that makes a contribution back home, but at a cost. Horror stories of abuse -- including rape, beatings, burning with irons and cases of exploitation and discrimination -- appear in the Asian press with alarming regularity.
In Singapore's worst case in 2002, a man who beat his Indonesian maid to death was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Earlier this month in Taiwan, a husband and wife were jailed for treating their Indonesian maid like a dog, making her eat leftovers and drink water from the toilet.
The Taiwanese court handed out a stiff penalty of 10 years to the husband to show that it would not tolerate such abuse, but to many the case highlighted how deep and strong the tide of discrimination still runs through Asia against foreign maids.
Hong Kong has more than 220,000 foreign maids -- or domestic helpers. In Thailand there is an estimated 1.2 million migrant workers, of whom 532,452 are legal. In Taiwan, the figure is around 160,000, while Malaysia has about 500,000 foreign maids.
They come from all over Asia in search of monthly wages ranging from US$100 to US$450 -- mostly from countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, but also from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Mongolia.
Dolores Balladares, chairperson of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, says these workers make a valid contribution to the society and economy of their employing country but get little recognition or help in return.
In Hong Kong, for example, a two-week rule introduced in 1987 was targeted at only foreign maids, giving them just two weeks to find a new position if they lose their job before being sent back to their home countries -- a condition that favored employers, not the workers, Balladares says.
In 2003, the government began imposing a levy of HK$400 (US$52) on anyone who hires a foreign maid. Coming at a time when the minimum wage for foreign maids was slashed by the same amount, it has been criticized as an indirect tax and racial discrimination on one of the poorest working sectors of the former British colony.
Like many in Hong Kong, Balladares had pinned her hopes on a long overdue Race Discrimination Bill, which is still under discussion, only to be disappointed in its failure to adequately address problems faced by foreign maids.
In Thailand, a policy of registering foreign maids in an attempt to better regulate the flow and deflect some international criticisms has gone some way to help the conditions maids face. But the registration process is slow and costly, leading many to ignore it and therefore making them more vulnerable to abuse.
Last year, Malaysia and Indonesia signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at reducing the cases of abuse of Indonesian maids. This requires both employers and maids to sign personal contracts stipulating the agreed wage and for the maid to open bank accounts in their own names, when previously accounts had to be held in the name of the employer.
In Singapore, a government crackdown on maid abuse would appear to have eased the problem with cases falling from 157 in 1997 to 59 in 2005. Among the moves introduced to help maids are compulsory orientation classes for newcomers, first time employers and those who change maids frequently, which outline their obligations and responsibilities.
However, maids in Singapore are excluded under the Employment Act, which entitles workers to at least one day off a week, and placed under the Employment of Foreign Workers Act, which only mandates one day off a week, a provision attacked by Western human-rights groups.
The discrimination does not only exist within the legal framework of these countries, Balladares said, but also in a society where many maids experience racial abuse on the streets daily.
"It is very sad. We feel we contribute to the economy. We support the needs of many Hong Kong families but everywhere we go, the markets, the public parks, we get scolded and told to go," Balladares said.
"Ideally we'd like to see an end to the two-week rule, the levy and to see a wage increase. But we would also like some recognition from the government. Every time there is a crisis, they tell us we should share the burden and cut our wage. Yet whenever there is a boom, they just forget us," she said.
Dignitaries from 47 countries yesterday congratulated President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on the commencement of her second term and highlighted Taiwan’s achievements in democracy and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent his congratulations a day earlier. As of noon yesterday, 263 high-ranking officials from 47 countries and global organizations had congratulated Tsai via statements, letters, social media posts or recorded footage, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, while releasing a collection of footage sent by selected dignitaries. The governments of Taiwan’s 15 diplomatic allies sent their congratulations, as did the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy,
REASSURING NUMBERS: Taiwan’s test capacity ranks sixth or seventh among 91 nations, and is not low compared with other nations, Chen Shih-chung said The quarantine period for foreigners visiting Taiwan for business would vary based on the COVID-19 situation of the nation or territory that they are coming from, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday, as it reported the 13th consecutive day of no new cases. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, told reporters at the center’s daily briefing that modified rules covering foreign business visitors had been completed and were ready for him to sign. The complete details of the new rules would be released later this week, he said. Foreigners on long business trips would have
IN PROTEST: The US’ top diplomat said the WHA had been deprived of Taiwan’s scientific expertise, while Tsai said political factors should not be put above health US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on Monday condemned Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Assembly (WHA), while President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday lodged a strong protest against the WHO for not inviting Taiwan. Twenty-two nations voiced support for Taiwan’s bid for participation on the first day of the assembly’s two-day virtual meeting, but despite the global community’s unprecedentedly strong support for Taiwan, it remained blocked from the assembly, with WHO member states on Monday agreeing to delay discussion on Taiwan until later this year. Pompeo, who on May 6 urged WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to invite Taiwan to the WHA,
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday announced no new cases of COVID-19, adding that a ban on mask exports would be lifted soon under three conditions. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that 401 people from among the nation’s 440 confirmed cases have been removed from isolation. Yesterday was the 12th consecutive day that no new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Taiwan, and the 37th day of no new domestic cases. “As our local communities have gradually become safe, we should not become careless,” Chen said. “We should continue to take personal protective measures