Wen◆Cheng Qijin (Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
For research on the mental health of foreign domestic helpers, we interviewed nearly 50 foreign domestic helpers. Their working experience in Hong Kong ranged from a few years to decades. When sharing their experiences, the relationship with their employers was always an unavoidable topic.
This article shares some of the most important points that foreign domestic helpers place on the relationship with their employers, hoping to help employers and foreign domestic helpers establish an inclusive and friendly relationship.
(Hong Kong News) Earlier, a 90-year-old woman drowned while taking a morning swim. Fortunately, a foreign domestic helper noticed her on the shore and called passers-by to rescue her in time, saving her life. I came across a case earlier, where an elderly man living alone passed away due to a sudden illness. His children had all immigrated to Australia. At that time, immigration control was strict during the epidemic, and the children were unable to return to Hong Kong in time. They relied on foreign helpers to properly handle the funeral arrangements. Therefore, many people lament that they are lucky to have a good foreign domestic helper.
Treat it as a family request and don’t worry about it.
From time to time, I hear employers or foreign domestic helpers praise a good relationship by saying “it’s like a family”. But what is interesting is that in my interviews, some foreign domestic helpers did not want to be regarded as “family members.” This has also been noted in the research of other scholars, indicating that this is not an isolated case. It turns out that some employers treat “family members” with extra care and consideration, but some employers treat “family members” by requiring them to provide various additional free services and saying, “I treat you like family, so don’t worry about it.” This makes foreign domestic helpers feel helpless.
In addition, foreign domestic helpers also have different personalities, family backgrounds, and ways of doing things. In terms of personality, some are more rigorous and some are more easy-going. In terms of finance, some people have a heavy family burden and are under great pressure to save money; some people have a light burden and care less about wages. In terms of work, most foreign domestic helpers in the early years came from an environment where women were required to obey their parents in everything and were more submissive to their employers. However, in recent years, the human rights situation in Southeast Asian countries has improved, and awareness of women’s equal rights has begun to spread. More and more social organizations are educating foreign domestic helpers. Domestic workers understand their legitimate rights and interests and help them receive fair treatment. In this environment, I believe that more and more foreign domestic helpers will hope to clarify their rights and responsibilities in the employment relationship with their employers, and then gradually establish a friendly and mutually supportive relationship. In fact, employers who can truly treat their foreign domestic helpers as one family first respect and protect the rights and interests of foreign domestic helpers as independent individuals.
When I first arrived, I lost myself and made the wrong friends.
During the interviews, most of them revealed that one of their sources of pressure is
It is the employer that gives too little time and space for free activities.
But some said that when they first came to report, they felt unprecedented freedom.
Instead, they lose themselves, make bad friends by mistake, and even get defrauded of money and sex.
Most of them are young people, leaving their hometown for the first time in a new environment. They have no clear plans for their lives, and they actually need someone to guide them. Of course, they will also learn experience from their stumbles, but if employers can understand their situation and provide guidance early so that they can establish a self-disciplined life, it will not only help them but also improve their work efficiency.
On the other hand, some foreign domestic helpers have clear plans for their lives and hope to have time to study and increase their own value after work. Some are studying online degree courses, and some are participating in training provided by different social welfare groups in the local area. For example, with the support of the Knowledge Transfer Fund of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the second phase of the government’s Mental Health Project Subsidy Scheme, the authorities provide mental health awareness for foreign domestic helpers. Healthy, self-help training. Foreign domestic helpers who have completed the training course can apply for charity funding to provide training for other foreign domestic helpers peers, including how to care for people with special mental health needs (such as SEN children (Special Education Needs), elderly people with cognitive decline, intellectual disabilities). People with developmental disabilities), etc.
I hope to be given more freedom during my spare time
After receiving training, these foreign domestic helpers will provide better services to their employers. Many of them plan to return to their hometowns to open a care center in the future and use their skills to benefit the neighborhood. This type of foreign domestic helpers expect their employers to give them more freedom and ensure that they can study without interruption in their spare time. Some foreign domestic helpers even receive subsidies from their employers and computers as gifts so that they can further their studies.
Seek help from trusted peersRefusal to disclose emotional stress to employer
Many foreign domestic helpers are under various pressures in life. In addition to supporting the family’s financial pressure, many are separated from their husbands and have to deal with their husbands’ affairs, alcoholism, drug abuse, gambling, and worries about their children’s growth.
Nine out of ten foreign domestic helpers interviewed said that unless they needed to ask their employers to pay their salaries in advance, they usually would not tell their employers about their emotional stress, nor would they let these stresses affect their daily work. But when serious situations arise, such as hearing hallucinations or suicidal thoughts, they may seek help from trusted people or peers.
Get support from peers
But they also said their employers played an important role in their recovery from stress. A friendly and considerate employer can make foreign domestic helpers feel warm even if they are unable to communicate deeply with each other, but a little concern can make them feel warm. For example, there was a foreign domestic helper whose husband not only had an affair but also abused his children, which deeply affected her. Her employer would often see her eyes swollen from crying and ask her what was wrong.
She thanked her employer for her concern, but was unwilling to say more for fear of affecting her future working relationship. However, her employer still took the initiative to share with her that she could regulate her emotions through meditation and breathing. She tried it and found it very helpful; and she saw her employer as a single parent. My mother was able to arrange her life well and was inspired to face life without her husband.
More often than not, foreign domestic helpers express their willingness to receive emotional support from peers who share the same sentiments. If employers notice that foreign domestic helpers have abnormal emotions but find it difficult to communicate, they may wish to tell them that there is an online talking service (bit.ly/441voTO) provided by foreign domestic helpers volunteers. Trained foreign domestic helper peer leaders will talk to foreign domestic helpers through conversations. Provide information on mental health to foreign domestic helpers who need it and encourage them to receive professional help.
Be open and honest during the interview
To sum up, employers may wish to be open and honest when interviewing foreign domestic helpers and explore what they do not understand about life in Hong Kong. What is your life plan? What is your ideal relationship with your employer? Quickly establish a suitable way to get along, shorten the running-in period, respect each other’s values, and help each other, and a harmonious relationship will naturally be established.
Many of the interviews include foreign domestic helpers who have been working for more than 10 to 30 years. The children they take care of have grown up, and they often invite them to have tea and dinner together. When they talk about this, they are always in high spirits and say that this is the place where they get a new life.