It can understandably be confusing to hear that your helper is short of money - after all, as her employer, you cover the main expenses of accommodation and food. However, domestic workers can still face many pressures on their finances which can lead to a shortfall each month, or severe debt at an extreme level. Here is where her money might go:
For most domestic workers, the main reason they are here is to support their family (often including extended family members) - 50-60% of their monthly salary can typically be sent home.
Additionally, once they are in Hong Kong, domestic workers are considered to be comparatively wealthier by their families for whom the salary seems like a lot of money - this places added pressure, especially if they are the sole breadwinner. They are often unable to tell their families of the realities of their situation here, or they struggle with guilt from leaving their children. Therefore if the family requests gifts or more money for expenses, it can be hard for a domestic worker to say ‘no’ - a challenge we specifically tackle in our Money and Family workshop.
Money might also go on repaying debts - Mission for Migrant Workers estimates that domestic workers spend about 36% of their salary on loan and agency fees. Debt can be accrued for many reasons including recruitment fees, emergencies, major expenses or even holiday expenses. Loans can also be needed to cover finances lost due to investment scams, ponzi schemes or even friends’ or family member’s loans for which many domestic workers sign as guarantors (without always knowing the legal responsibility).
A 2017 impact study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that following our workshops, there was a 40% decrease in Enrich participants who reported taking on loans without first having a repayment plan. Learn more about our impact.
Big expenses or emergencies
With poor future planning, many sudden or large expenses can also place a huge strain on domestic workers’ finances; for example, without an emergency fund set aside, they often have to take out loans if there has been a natural disaster or medical emergency at home.
Other regular expenses can include communication expenses, transportation costs, toiletries, clothes and accessories and even donations to charities or religious institutions.
If you are concerned about your helper’s spending, consider sponsoring her to attend our financial and empowerment education programmes, or refer her to us for a confidential one-to-one financial counselling session to evaluate her finances and help her shape a plan to move forward.