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Anger over calls to limit air-con for Hong Kong maids

Calls to restrict air conditioning for Hong Kong's domestic maids amid sweltering summer temperatures were dubbed inhumane by rights groups Friday, after a politician suggested helpers should get "used to the hot weather".

The southern Chinese city is home to over 340,000 migrant domestic workers mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, but concerns have grown over their welfare after several high-profile abuse cases.

The maids are required by law to live with their employers which rights campaigners say makes it hard for them to escape mistreatment.

One employer’s Facebook post went viral this week after she expressed outrage that her helper had switched on the air conditioning in her room at night without permission, as temperatures topped 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) with high humidity.

“I’m very angry,” the woman — identified only as Wong — said, according to a screenshot of the now deleted post on a closed group for Hong Kong employers of foreign helpers, published by Apple Daily newspaper.

Wong described her maid to be “audacious to the extreme”, and said that she would remove the air conditioning switch.

While she was widely criticised by some residents, others supported her.

Politician Michael Lee, who heads a group for employers of maids, said in a radio interview that helpers should be accustomed to the weather as they came from “hot, hot” countries and called on employers to establish firm house rules.

“If they come from the hot country, they should get used to the hot weather,” Lee later told AFP.

He conceded that the temperatures of recent weeks could mean helpers should be allowed air-con at night, but only so they can continue in their household duties.

“Otherwise she can’t sleep, then she can’t work,” said Lee, a district councillor and spokesman for the pro-business Liberal Party’s Taskforce on Foreign Helper’s Problems, which speaks for the employers of maids.

“I recommend all employers in Hong Kong set up house rules saying what they can and cannot do,” added Lee.

Campaigners for helpers’ rights said limiting air conditioning was “ridiculous, unfair and inhumane”.

“To regulate the foreign domestic helpers in using air conditioning is inhumane and will cause deterioration to their health,” said former domestic helper Eni Lestari, spokeswoman for the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body.

Hong Kong made international headlines after an employer was jailed for six years in 2015 for the horrific abuse of her former helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih.

Rights groups have also criticised exploitative city recruitment agencies that extract exorbitant fees from migrants.

Campaigners have long sought reforms, including ending the “two-week rule” where domestic workers must leave the city 14 days after they quit a job, unless they can find other employment within that time.

They have also called for the abolition of the “live-in” rule.

But so far the government has shown no indication it will relax the regulations.

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