HONG KONG — The noodle shop was doing a brisk Friday evening business, with diners crowded at shared tables. Eni Lestari, a migrant domestic worker in Hong Kong, spotted a seat near another woman and hurried to claim it.
Suddenly, the woman stood, and, according to Ms. Lestari, declared that she would not sit near her.
She did not give a reason. But hours earlier, the Hong Kong government had ordered virtually all of the city’s 370,000 migrant domestic workers — mostly Southeast Asian women in an otherwise largely racially homogeneous city — to take coronavirus tests and vaccines. Officials said they were “high risk” for infection, because of their habit of “mingling” with other migrant workers.
“They don’t think about us as humans who also have a social life,” said Ms. Lestari, who came to Hong Kong from Indonesia 20 years ago. “The frustration and anger of the Hong Kong public during Covid-19 — now it’s directed at the domestic workers.”
exposed the plight of migrant and other low-paid workers, whose labor undergirds local economies but is often unrecognized or exploited. Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest densities of migrant domestic workers, who make up about 10 percent of the working population.
excludes migrant workers.
In the pandemic, government officials and employers have invoked public health to impose more restrictions.
Domestic workers — euphemistically called “helpers” — have described being barred from leaving their employers’ homes on their day off, in the name of preventing infection. Those who can leave say they are harassed by the police and passers-by. The government has repeatedly accused the workers of violating social distancing restrictions, though other groups, including expatriates and wealthy locals, have been at the heart of the city’s major outbreaks.
Officials singled out domestic workers with their first, and only, vaccination order. The requirement did not apply to the workers’ employers, with whom they are in daily contact.